Pension Crisis

Rifts Exist Among Democrats in State, Municipal Levels

It's frequently not the Republicans fighting the unions for pension reform

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Well, there's your problem. Those are tokens for Dave & Busters, actually.
Credit: © Anankkml | Dreamstime.com

Over at RealClearPolitics, Washington Bureau Chief Carl M. Cannon notices that while the federal infighting in the GOP is getting lots of attention, the Democrats are hardly a unified coalition, thanks to fiscal problems of states and their municipalities. To be more clear, the conflicts in Democrat-dominated cities and states are pitting executives versus legislators:

Typically, reform is being led by Democratic mayors. It's being resisted by leaders of public employee unions, who are also Democrats. California state legislators tend to side with the unions over the mayors, preferring the status quo—and the campaign contributions from unions—to an intramural fight.

The problem, however, is that the status quo will not hold any longer. Detroit is virtually a one-party city. It has also filed for bankruptcy. These two facts are not entirely coincidental. Five decades' practice of awarding generous pension benefits to city employees, even while Detroit was in the process of losing two-thirds of its population and slashing the workforce, has left the city with a budget in which 40 percent goes to paying former workers—with long-term obligations to these retirees approaching $44 billion.

Cannon reminds us that just as California was completing the transition to a single-party state, voters in San Jose and San Diego were overwhelmingly approving reforms to public employee pensions that reduced obligations moving forward. San Jose's reforms are heading to court, while Mayor Chuck Reed is part of a small group of mayors putting together a state-wide ballot initiative to give municipalities more control over their employee pension rules.

Gov. Jerry Brown pushed some modest pension reforms through, which are being challenged by the state unions and threatened by federal sanctions if transportation employees are not exempted. Democratic Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called for pension reform. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is trying to negotiate pension reform (but not very well). Despite conspiracies that public pension reform is a far-right plot, the battle is taking place in communities where virtually all the power has been consolidated among leftist factions.

Read Cannon's whole piece here.

I would add that similar conflicts can be seen in pushes for more charter schools. Despite, again, conspiracies that it's all religious nuts who don't want their kids learning evolution or corporate greedheads who see a profit, in cities, the push for more parent power over the schools is coming from the left against the entrenched unions.