The PJ Tatler

New York: Government pensions now one-fifth of the state's budget

Yet the NYT still rips Republicans for attempting needed reform in other states.

In recent weeks, Republican politicians in the Midwest have distorted what should be a serious discussion about state employees’ benefits, cynically using it as a pretext to crush unions.

New York does not need that sort of destructive game playing. What it needs is a sober examination of the high costs of wages and benefits, and some serious proposals to rein them in while remaining fair to hard-working government employees.

But even by the Times’ own recollection, the last time such sober examination happened, the Democrat gov got rolled.

Last April, in the midst of one of the worst financial crises that New York and the nation have ever faced, the state’s unionized workers got a 4 percent pay raise that cost $400 million. It came on top of 3 percent raises in each of the previous three years. These raises were negotiated long before the recession began, by a Legislature that routinely gave in to unions that remain among the biggest political contributors in Albany.

During the same period, many private-sector workers had their pay or hours cut. Private-sector wages in New York dropped nearly 9 percent in 2008. In 2009, Gov. David Paterson pleaded with the unions to give up the raises to help the state out of its crisis. Union leaders attacked him in corrosive television ads, and Mr. Paterson eventually caved, settling for an agreement that reduced pension payments to new employees. The deal wasn’t enough to address New York’s serious fiscal problems.

Those ads — paid for by taxpayers, as this video illustrates. The only fix for the situation that New York and other states find themselves in is to break the unions’ ability to do what they did to Paterson and what they’re doing to Wisconsin. That fix can take one (or both) of two forms: Breaking the government unions’ collective bargaining privileges, or ban them from direct and indirect political activity. Anything short of that leaves the door open to keep on rolling state governments straight into bankruptcy.