Friday, August 19, 2011

California Cities Finally Start Paying Attention to their Pension Troubles

Over at Cal Watchdog, Wayne Lusvardi discusses the considerable faux pas the League of California Cities has committed by suggesting that, just maybe, reducing pensions for current government workers may be legal. Granted, all the League did was call for a study on the subject. But to the vast majority of government hacks out there, it was quite the shock.

Of course, it's a shock that's long, long overdue. The move came at the urging of the City Managers' committee of the league; apparently the people responsible for cities' budgets are starting to wake up to the fact that pension obligations may soon make it impossible for governments to offer services. While it might have been possible, for a while, for California liberals to dismiss pensions as a concern of "extremists" like the Costa Mesa City Council, now even the state's "progressive" cities are taking note. The mayor of Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, laments that there's no "good solution": "Rates are going to continue to go up to a point where for every person working for the city you are paying for another one that’s not. What suffers then is the level of services." This pales, of course, next to the description of what San Jose could look like in 2015, in the words of its mayor: "A volunteer fire department, a mostly volunteer police department, and not much else. All libraries except Martin Luther King would be closed. All community centers, most likely closed." (For the people like Steve Lopez who pointed to Costa Mesa as a sign of small-government extremism run amok, and ignored what's been happening in San Jose, we'll call them partisan hacks and leave it at that.)

It's a good thing that the League is willing to take at least some tentative steps toward stemming the coming tsunami of pension debt. If nothing else, someone has to, and given their dismissal of the pessimistic Stanford and Northwestern studies, it's not going to be CalPERS or CalSTRS. And, if you want a positive, anti-statist spin to put on things, growing concern over pensions could lead to fracturing within the California Democratic Party. If the services and programs beloved by the true-believer progressives are sacrificed to pay the pensions of union workers, the former might start to get restless.

2 comments:

  1. For the people like Steve Lopez who pointed to Costa Mesa as a sign of small-government extremism run amok, and ignored what's been happening in San Jose, we'll call them partisan hacks and leave it at that.

    Yuh, duh? Actually, the San Jose scenario sounds startlingly worse than what was proposed (to my recollection) in Costa Mesa. That may mean that the city is emitting gas about what is really financially feasible, or perhaps it's a rare bout of honesty from an elected official. Either way, I'll take it.

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  2. Exactly. Costa Mesa wasn't proposing an attack on vested pension benefits, which is the heart of the San Jose plan. I don't think it has anything to do with any sense of responsibility or honesty from Chuck Reed (SJ's mayor): the city's finances really are bad enough that the pensions will kill it otherwise.

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