With Poll Numbers Dropping, Schwarzenegger Backtracks On Attacking Public Pensions
Another Grover Norquist wet dream bites the dust.
Arnold has wisely walked away from mounting a frontal assault on the California Public Employees Retirement System and pushing for a 401 (k) system, and has decided to withdraw his support for gutting the defined benefit pension system. The official reason given today at the face-saving photo op was that the initiative as drafted would also scuttle disability and death benefits currently provided by PERS, something that any decent staff work by the Governor’s staff would have detected and dealt with before embarrassing the Boss into having to backtrack today. And I'm sure the tanking approval ratings have little to do with it also.
This whole move by Schwarzenegger in the first place was a wrong move, pushed for by the Beltway conservative mafia without anyone inside the Governor’s circle apparently able to see what a stupid fix this was for the legitimate concern of rising public pensions here in California, as we noted months ago here, here, and here. Aside from not saving any money for years, making all new public hires in California accept a 401(k) instead of a pension would cripple recruiting at both the state and local levels in critical jobs like nursing, teaching, engineering, information technology, law enforcement, and management positions while requiring dramatic increases in salaries to offset the public sector compensation gap that employees currently accept because of the PERS pension.
Schwarzenegger said that he’ll work with local government and law enforcement organizations to address the rising cost of pensions, something that he should have done in the first place. He says that he’ll do this with the Legislature if he can, and bring something back next year. But the groups that stood with him at the podium today are the same groups that would have to give up some of their sweetened pensions, and therefore the likelihood of this coming back next year in a gubernatorial election year looking anything like the current misguided initiative is remote. The truth is that the remedy was a meat-axe for a problem that could have been fixed by rolling back the pension sweeteners that had been granted the last five years.
Instead, Arnold and his questionable staff got talked into pursuing Norquist’s dream of destroying the largest and best-run public pension system in the country as a first step in trying to make California a red state. At least Schwarzenegger was keen enough to see when his staff had made a grave political mistake and he cut his losses.
If only Bush was that smart.