GUEST COMMENTARY-More governors need to show their courage. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed a budget calling on existing government employees and retirees to bear the costs of proposed pension reforms because citizens and taxpayers have already contributed enough to the retirement system. The proposed changes include higher contributions by employees and lower post-retirement increases for retirees.
Public pension costs have exploded because of corrupt behavior by elected officials and pension fund board members. Even a soaring stock market can’t stop the deluge, which is causing tax increases and limiting the ability of governments to hire and compensate new and future firefighters, police officers and teachers while also struggling to maintain spending on streets, universities, courts, libraries, affordable housing and other services.
Until now states like California and Colorado have imposed the consequences of rising pension costs on everyone except existing employees and retirees. California alone has already imposed nearly $250 billion in bailout costs on students, taxpayers, citizens and new firefighters, police officers, teachers and other public employees, and with more to come.
Both states engaged in weak reforms (Colorado in 2010, California in 2012) and, as predicted at that time by anyone who understood pension math, both find themselves worse off today. But this time Gov. Hickenlooper is saying “enough.” In doing so he is following the lead of another courageous governor, Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, who led the nation’s boldest pension reform.
Hickenlooper and Raimondo are protecting students, citizens, taxpayers and new and future firefighters, police officers and teachers.
More governors need to step up. Republican governors love to talk about fiscal conservatism but if they’re not addressing core pension issues, they are not walking their conservative talk. Democratic governors love to talk about progressivism but if they’re not addressing the pension costs crowding out education and social services, they aren’t walking their progressive talk.
The pension problem was not caused by existing government employees and retirees but it also wasn’t caused by the students, citizens, taxpayers and new and future teachers, firefighters and police officers bearing all the costs.
The problem is now much larger because elected officials failed to act boldly in the past. Governor Hickenlooper is right to say “enough.” It’s time for existing employees and retirees to share the burden.
(David Crane Lecturer at Stanford University and president of Govern For California.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.