Friday, July 15, 2011

Unions Misread Public Sentiment Yet Again

Paid by State Taxpayers
The Sacramento Bee reports on the latest evidence that California's public employee unions really, really do not get that average Californians are outraged by their pensions. According to the Bee, the California State Employees Association Retirees, an advocacy organization representing 31,000 retired state workers, is planning a campaign that it hopes will illustrate the blessings that public pensions bring to the state's economy. They hope to distribute 100,000 blue stickers reading "Paid by State Retiree" to their members, so that the members can affix the stickers to checks, bills, and other paper payments to demonstrate the benefits of public pensions to local businesses. According to CSEA Retirees President Roger Marxen, "We have always known that the retirement incomes of our members help strengthen the economy wherever they may live. These stickers are a friendly reminder that state retirees are your tax-paying neighbors who are not to blame for the state's budget woes."

Word of this campaign falls, of course, on the heels of a CalPERS study offering the preposterous suggestion that retirement checks could be the answer to the recession gripping the Sacramento region. The problem with that study, and with this sticker campaign, is that the idea that retirement checks equate to progress is so transparently false that many of our most economically illiterate citizens see it. Maybe we're giving our fellow Golden Staters too much credit, but we'd guess that most people would think something's terribly out of balance in a librarian or a DMV clerk or a landscaper retiring in late middle age to a pension that dwarfs most private-sector salaries. At a time when the state's news is filled with stories of broken budgets at all levels of government, layoffs and cutbacks in city services, and a deep recession that shows no signs of abating, retired public workers living the high life stick out like weeds. And not in a good way. The more economically literate among us, of course, see this situation for what it is. A community can only be said to grow wealthy in one way: by having lots of residents who create goods or provide services that others want. By definition, public pensions are a transfer payment from taxpayers to government workers; the money is taken from us and no service or good is provided in return. Moreover, that money can't be invested in the private economy. Which is why pension payments are starting to swallow government budgets, and the jobs market seems unable to get itself going.

Expect to start seeing these stickers in August and September.

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