Public unions didn't just lose with their hissy fit against Walker (who, I should remind everybody, was elected less than two years ago by about the same margin, promising to cut pay and benefits of the public employees). They also lost in California — in relatively conservative San Diego as well as the rather liberal San Jose.
First, San Jose:
San Jose voters Tuesday handed Mayor Chuck Reed a crucial victory with his nationally watched pension reform measure passing by a decisive margin.….
Reed's Measure B goes further than other efforts in tackling current employee pension costs. He said that as a charter city San Jose has the authority to reduce pension benefits not only for future hires, but for current employees' remaining years on the job. If courts disagree, Measure B calls for the city to take the equivalent savings in pay cuts.
Among changes called for in Measure B:
- Current employees keep pension credits already earned but must pay up to 16 percent more of their salary to continue that benefit or choose a more modest and affordable plan for their remaining years on the job.
- Limit retirement benefits for future hires by requiring them to pay half the cost of a pension.
- Suspend current retirees' 3 percent yearly pension raises up to five years if the city declares a fiscal crisis.
- Discontinue "bonus" pension checks to retirees.
- Require voter approval for future pension increases.
- Change disability retirement with the aim of limiting it to those whose injuries prevent them from working.
Reed proposed Measure B a year ago after his efforts — from championing new tax measures to imposing 10 percent pay cuts on city employees — failed to erase budgetary red ink that has soaked the city ledger for a decade. Though the city projects a modest $9 million surplus in the upcoming budget, thanks largely to the pay cuts and hundreds of job cuts, a $22.5 million shortfall is expected the year after.
A key deficit driver has been the yearly pension bill that has more than tripled from $73 million to $245 million in a decade, far outpacing the 20 percent revenue growth and gobbling more than a fifth of the city's general fund. A city audit blamed the rise on a combination of benefit increases, flawed cost assumptions and investment losses.
I really hate when an article says "wins by a decisive margin", but doesn't tell you what that actual margin was. Walker won by a "decisive" margin of about 7 percentage points, but 1% is also "decisive" inasmuch it decides an election. Here are the results:
Completed Precincts 415 of 415 Percent Votes YES 69.53% 85,323 NO 30.47% 37,387
Whoa. Almost 40 percentage points difference. I think I'd ramp the description up a wee bit more than "decisive". Perhaps "Incredibly high".
Now let's take a look at San Diego:
A ballot initiative that would replace guaranteed pensions with 401(k)-style plans for most new city hires received overwhelming support Tuesday from San Diego voters who were clearly fed up with the decade-long civic discussion about the city’s pension problems.
Proposition B, also known as the “Comprehensive Pension Reform” initiative, was crafted by Sanders, DeMaio, Faulconer, the pro-business Lincoln Club and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. It eliminates pensions in favor of 401(k)s for all new hires except police officers and proposes a five-year freeze to the portion of current workers’ salaries that is used to calculate future pensions.
PROP B – CITY OF SAN DIEGO Ch. Amd. Retirement Benefits [top]
Not exactly the "decisive margin" of San Jose, but still extremely substantial, with twice as many voting for the reform as against.
This is the true death knell for public unions, when something directly referring to them is being put to public referendum, they lost by wide margins even in fairly liberal areas. I checked out the party affiliation for all the politicians in the Wikipedia sidebar for the town - where listed, their affiliation is Democratic (even if some of the elections are officially non-partisan). The mayor is a Democrat. All assembly members and state senators representing the area are Democrats.
Public unions never were a big support bloc for Republicans. When Democrats are finding it expedient for fiscal reasons to dump on the public unions, that's the end. Not when those who never had public support from unions dump them.
But back to the promised court challenges to these measures, and indeed this will move to lawsuits. When you've lost substantial political power, the courts are your last, best hope.
Thing is, it will be a Pyrrhic victory should they strike these measures down. Guys, remember that you can end up with nothing. Towns and cities can go bankrupt, and when they do, you're just another creditor. You'll be in line with everyone else.
So sure, throttle the goose to try to get every last golden egg. But watch out that you don't kill it. That's quite the fine line you're walking.