Voters in Wisconsin’s recall election decisively retained the governor that delivered on his promises for public-sector reform, but they weren’t alone. Two California cities voted on referendums to impose cuts on out-of-control pension systems, and they made the Wisconsin vote look like a nailbiter in comparison:
Voters in two major California cities overwhelmingly approved cuts to retirement benefits for city workers in what supporters said was a mandate that may lead to similar ballot initiatives in other states and cities that are struggling with mounting pension obligations.
Supporters had a simple message to voters in San Diego and San Jose: Pensions for city workers are unaffordable and more generous than many private companies offer, forcing libraries to slash hours and potholes to go unfilled. …
In San Diego, 66 percent voted in favor of Proposition B, while 34 percent were opposed. Nearly 97 percent of precincts were tallied by early Wednesday.
The landslide was even bigger in San Jose, the nation’s 10th-largest city. With all precincts counted, 70 percent were in favor of Measure B and 30 percent were opposed.
San Diego tends to be more conservative anyway, but San Jose does not. Even still, the Democratic mayor backed the referendum in the central-coast city. It’s not difficult to understand why. In both cities, pension payments have exploded over the last several years as the defined-benefit plans demonstrated their fiscal insanity. The Post reports that pension payments now eat up 20% of San Diego’s operating budget, and 27% in San Jose. Both cities have been forced to lay off thousands of public-sector workers to cover those costs, which means that services have deteriorated badly.
When voters stop getting the same value for their tax dollars and watch potholes go unfilled, they tend to lose patience rather quickly. Opponents of the referenda — mainly the same public-employee unions that fought and lost in Wisconsin — tried to argue that changing the pension systems now was unfair to people who had passed up private-sector work in favor of a more secure retirement. That argument has worked in the past, but clearly a bipartisan coalition of voters are fed up with the fiscal crisis in California. That will send a message to Sacramento, where the state pension funds have the same defined-benefit problem of too many unrealistic promises with far too little revenue. After the scandal in Bell in 2010, where city officials got paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year — in one case, twice as much as the President of the United States — Californians aren’t terribly sympathetic to public-sector workers.
And if that’s true in California and Wisconsin …
Update: David Harsanyi says that public-employee unions had better prepare themselves for some real people power:
While most of the nation’s attention was understandably focused on Wisconsin’s recall elections other local governments were taking important steps towards breaking free of public-sector unions, as well. And though Wisconsin might prove that unions are in decline in traditionally Democrat-leaning Midwestern states, two local elections in California may portend even bigger things for the reformists.
When you’re looking for public-sector unions carnage, there is no better place than California, a solidly Democratic state where pension-plan funding for government employees is more than $500 billion in the red. Gov. Jerry Brown tepid 12-point pension reform plan hasn’t gotten anywhere in the state legislature, but two of the state’s — and country’s — biggest cities dealt unions major setbacks yesterday. …
Unions may know a lot about the unfortunate spending of taxpayer money, but though all these initiatives will end up in courtrooms — “so much for Power to the People!” — the mood of voters is unmistakable.
And, I’d daresay again, not just in California and Wisconsin.