Yet another report confirms the enormous liabilities that California taxpayers must endure to pay for pensions for public employees. The study, released May 5 at a Pension Boot Camp for elected officials held near Sacramento by the reform group Californians for Fiscal Responsibility, echoed the points made by the Little Hoover Commission, Stanford University and others: “Public pension funds in California face massive shortfalls,” which are the result of pension benefits that are much richer than those received in the private sector.
The reaction from the state’s muscular public employee unions has been as predictable as they are comical. Union spokesman and Democratic activist Steve Maviglio blamed Wall Street greed and argued that “pension reform is a Trojan horse for an attack on public employees,” as if the half-trillion-dollar unfunded liabilities (per Stanford) and fiscal problems faced by state and local governments are mere fictions trumped up by “right-wing” Republicans to diminish government workers.
The silliest response came from pro-union organizations that sponsored the www.dontscapegoatus.com, a website that features the type of heavy-handed ad hominem approach perfected by the state’s public employee unions, which are used for bullying and threatening politicians into obedience. The site puts the heads of prominent pension reformers on the bodies of farm animals, spins some conspiratorial yarns about out-of-state billionaires and Wall Street greed. It even depicts some progressive Democrats as “right-wing zealots.”
Apparently, anyone concerned about the effect of these unsustainable pension promises on government budgets and taxpayer wallets is a right-wing zealot. And never mind that some of the worst Wall Street scandals enmeshed CalPERS, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
Meanwhile, the California Teachers Association — the state’s biggest and richest public employee union — filled the state Capitol with T-shirted members after pulling back from some of the zanier protest ideas such as closing freeways with angry teachers. Their goal: to intimidate the Legislature into passing tax extensions and avoiding cuts to already-bloated school budgets. The CFFR study found that teachers receive a smaller retirement than many other government employees, but it’s still far more generous than those received in the private sector, and the California State Teachers Retirement System still manages to run up an unfunded pension liability estimated at an astounding $56 billion.
The union pension defenders argue that pensions only make up a small portion of the state budget, but they neglect to mention the enormous portion of local governments consumed by such benefits and they conveniently ignore the unfunded liabilities — the fact that the state should be paying much more to cover these promises, but is instead running up an unsustainable level of debt.
Here’s a relevant passage from the Little Hoover Commission, a nonpartisan oversight agency that is part of the California state government: “Pension costs will crush government. Government budgets are being cut while pension costs continue to rise and squeeze other government priorities.” But pointing out these facts amounts to scapegoating in the views of union members who want the general population to pay an endless amount of taxes to sustain the lifestyle they have come to expect. They want to intimidate us into shutting up about the size of the debt by using cheap emotional ploys. We should ignore them and their silly protests and keep pointing to the facts. They should stop insulting us.
Steven Greenhut is editor of www.calwatchdog.com; write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.