Ordered Liberty

Public Unions Also Thumped in California

Wisconsin is rightfully getting the lion’s share of the attention this morning, but taxpayers also routed public unions in two crucial votes in California, involving America’s seventh and tenth largest cities, San Diego and San Jose.

Residents of both voted overwhelmingly to cut city worker pensions. In San Diego, the measure carried by a 2-1 margin, and a similar measure in San Jose did even better, commanding 70 percent approval.

The public realizes there is no sane alternative. Due to the rigged deals public unions win by influencing both sides of the negotiations, the Associated Press notes that San Diego’s payments into the retirement fund soared from $43 million in 1999 to a staggering $231 million this year, consuming fully a fifth of the city’s operating budget. In San Jose, payments have skyrocketed from $73 million in 2001 to $245 million today — consuming 27 percent of the budget. Roads are not being fixed, libraries have slashed hours, fire departments are shrinking, police stations have been built but never opened because there is no money to operate them, and on the downward spiral goes.

The two city measures that prevailed differ somewhat. Both cut benefits for new employees, with San Diego wisely steering them into 401(k)-type plans. Current employees are also affected: San Diego is freezing the pay levels that determine pension benefits; San Jose is forcing workers to pay up to 16 percent of their salaries to keep their generous benefits — otherwise, the benefits will be slashed.

Private sector workers will have little sympathy since they generally pay more and get less. The unstinting fact is that public sector collective bargaining — which even FDR recognized as potentially catastrophic — has put states, cities, and municipalities on the same irresponsible, unsustainable course the federal government is on. The course has to be reversed. Maybe the counterrevolution has begun.