Indeed, one of the many posited reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire—both the West and the East—was the amount of money promised to the Roman legions, the institution that arguably was holding those vast empires together. Every new emperor (who often came to the throne by killing/deposing the previous one) would buy the loyalty of the troops by boosting salaries and pensions. Heck, that’s often how they managed to get the throne in the first place—by promising the troops that if they’d back him in fighting against the present emperor, they’d make out extremely nicely.
Of course, the money didn’t last. Even when the largesse was taken by force from people, the promises had exploded almost exponentially, and the amount that could be dragged from the populace couldn’t keep up. Money was getting funnelled to this particular group of people, and the various services and grand building projects once provided by the Roman state went by the wayside. Indeed, some of the grand buildings of the past did start to fall apart.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Yes, history is repeating itself, as it often does, but this time, it’s in California:
“Pension reform is a tough issue,” Adachi tells me as we travel to the site of his next campaign appearance, a farmer’s market. “Unlike many other campaign issues, it’s hard to explain. It’s not ‘Save the Redwoods.’” Still, Adachi is largely responsible for having turned the issue of pension reform from a conservative talking point into a mainstream cause in liberal San Francisco. He is running as a “pragmatic progressive”—in fact, one of the most liberal candidates in the race. He argues that the underfunded pension obligations undertaken by irresponsible mayors risk not only bankrupting the city but also “crowding out” essential city services upon which middle-class citizens depend.
In San Francisco, a popular vacation destination, signs of that “crowding out” abound. The streets are filled with potholes that the city can’t afford to fix. Though the city earns much of its income from tourism, since 2010 it has imposed stiff fines for parking on the street during holidays, much to the concern of local businesses. For the second summer in a row, San Francisco has been unable to offer summer school to some 10,000 public school students because of a $1 million budget cut in the program. School budget cuts cause particular concern, since the city’s poorly rated school system is often cited as a major cause (along with a stagnant economy and high unemployment) of the flight of middle-class residents with children. Last year, the city’s parks budget was cut in half, while spending on services for seniors and those with AIDS was reduced by 30 percent. San Francisco taxpayers now spend one out of every six tax dollars on city employee benefits, Adachi says.
Alas, Adachi lost the race to Ed Lee, and while the link here says that Prop C, a pension-reform measure backed by Ed Lee, passed, don’t be fooled into thinking that it was much in the way of reform. Adachi had a competing reform item on the ballot:
Voters chose what was billed as a consensus pension-reform measure even though it would save the City less money than one authored by Public Defender Jeff Adachi, which was headed for defeat.
The dueling pension measures were placed on the November ballot as the City faces skyrocketing pension costs that could reach as high as $800 million by 2014.
Proposition C was crafted by Mayor Ed Lee in talks with members of the Board of Supervisors and labor union leaders. The measure saves The City less money than Proposition D, which was placed on the ballot by Adachi through a signature gathering campaign. Nearly 47,000 valid signatures were necessary. Prop. C was called the consensus measure that city leaders said addressed the problem fairly. It came with widespread support among labor leaders and elected officials.
Both measures proposed increasing city workers’ pension contribution rates when The City’s pension contribution rate increases. Adachi’s measure had higher rates and placed a greater burden on higher paid workers. His measure set a baseline of 10 percent for public safety workers and 7.5 percent for other workers, while Prop. C sets a 7.5 percent baseline for all employees.
And while the various of the 1% are pushing out taxpayers – rural landowners and businesses – one wonders who they think will be supporting all of this. The non-state jobs have been fleeing for a long time, so it figures that the liberals are starting their own internecine wars.
As I remarked a little while ago, when you start a class war, thinking it will be your enemies pegged, you need to be careful that it doesn’t redound on you.
Money is running out. If you think people who actually pay taxes will sit still and pay pensions that are still rather generous compared to those in the private sector, while current services are not being supplied . . . well, it’s called La-La Land for a reason.
But remember what happened to the Roman legions. When the Empire fell, the barbarians did not pay those pensions.