From The Associated Press:
Ballot measures Tuesday in San Diego and San Jose — the nation's eighth- and 10th-largest cities — are among the most sweeping yet to cut pensions for government workers, and the results are being closely watched well beyond California. […]
San Diego's payments to the city's retirement fund soared from $43 million in 1999 to $231.2 million this year, equal to 20 percent of the city's general fund budget, which pays for day-to-day operations. […]
San Jose's pension payments jumped from $73 million in 2001 to $245 million this year, equal to 27 percent of its general fund budget. […]
Opponents, led by public employee unions, say the measures deprive workers of benefits they were counting on when they got hired. Some workers decided against potentially more lucrative jobs with private companies, figuring their retirement was relatively safe. […]
San Diego's Proposition B imposes a six-year freeze on pay levels used to determine pension benefits unless a two-thirds majority of the City Council votes to override it. It also puts new hires, except for police officers, into 401(k)-style plans. […]
Under San Jose's Measure B, current workers would have to pay up to 16 percent of their salaries to keep their retirement plan or accept more modest benefits. New hires would get less generous benefits.
Let's slow this down for those out there who have deluded themselves into thinking that the Wisconsin recall is mostly about a Koch-controlled ethnic cleanser engaged in "starve the beast politics" (no seriously, that's what Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote today in the Washington Post): When defined-benefit pension contributions account for one-fifth or more of your budget, you have bankrupted your own system. When government is no longer chiefly about providing essential services, and instead used as a cash machine for the same unions that in many places exert the most local political influence, you have effectively stolen from the same masses you claim to represent, forcing them to accept ever-crappier government performance for ever-more dollars. Government budgets are one of the few zero-sum areas in economics, and the part of the pie that keeps growing fastest is the comparatively lavish promises made to public employees. By defending those promises, you are making the conscious choice to close libraries and fire cops. Don't blame me.
As the Reason-Rupe poll has shown, the public largely knows this, and wants government employees to contribute more to their own benefits. As Tim Cavanaugh detailed in his Reason cover story "Farewell, My Lovely: How public pensions killed progressive California," the real action on this stuff is coming in blue states where they have no more Republicans and Koch puppets to blame. And for you austerity town criers, chew on this: In the good times between 2002 and 2007, states jacked up spending by 81 percent.
Recessions are great margin calls for bad public policy. There have been few categories of bad public policy more disastrous than the labor-led featherbedding of public sector pensions. As former labor honcho Andy Stern admitted in a remarkable 2009 interview, after being asked whether his power was helping destroy local and state budgets in California, "Democracy is an ugly picture sometimes." A quote to ponder among those progressives who imagine themselves on the moral high ground today.
Link via the dream-killers over at Pension Tsunami.