Oddly enough, public souring on public unions

It is an angry conversation. Union chiefs, who sometimes persuaded members to take pension sweeteners in lieu of raises, are loath to surrender ground. Taxpayers are split between those who want cuts and those who hope that rising tax receipts might bring easier choices.

And a growing cadre of political leaders and municipal finance experts argue that much of the edifice of municipal and state finance is jury-rigged and, without new revenue, perhaps unsustainable. Too many political leaders, they argue, acted too irresponsibly, failing to either raise taxes or cut spending.

A brutal reckoning awaits, they say.

These battles play out in many corners, but few are more passionate than in New Jersey, where politics tend toward the moderately liberal and nearly 20 percent of the work force is unionized (compared with less than 14 percent nationally). From tony horse-country towns to middle-class suburbs to hard-edged cities, property tax and unemployment rates are high, and budgets are pools of red ink.