Big Labor's Other Disaster: California

Voters in San Diego and San Jose, the 8th and tenth biggest municipalities in the United States, decisively voted to redistribute income from the rich (public employees) to the middle class taxpayers who earn far less on average.  Both cities have strong Democratic registration majorities, indicating that the general public has fully absorbed the lesson that government jobs are wildly overpaid, and that it is necessary to choose between using money to serve the taxpayers, or using it to benefit the bureaucrats.

Craig Gustafson of the San Diego Union-Tribune describes the measure approved in San Diego with 69 percent of the vote:

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 is viewed by supporters - including Mayor Jerry Sanders and City Council members Carl DeMaio and Kevin Faulconer - as pivotal to moving the city past its fiscal woes that stem, in part, from the decision by previous city leaders to twice increase benefits for workers without identifying a way to pay for them.

The woes are substantial:

The city has a nearly $2.2 billion pension deficit as a result of past decisions to increase pension benefits while underfunding the pension plan in 1996 and 2002.

Investment losses exacerbated the problem.

Meanwhile, in San Jose, an astounding 71 percent of voters approved the city's own Proposition B. From the unions' perspective, it is an attack of killer B's, I guess. This plan changes new hires to 401ks like everybody else, and cuts some benefits from existing employees.  John Woolfolk of the San Jose Mercury-News reports the disaster for Big Labor as a victory for the mayor:

San Jose voters Tuesday handed Mayor Chuck Reed a crucial victory with his nationally watched pension reform measure passing by a decisive margin. (snip)

San Jose's Measure B puts Reed and the city in the vanguard of efforts to shrink taxpayer bills for generous government pension plans. Passage also strengthen's Reed's hand as he and his City Council allies work to enact the measure's reforms with a vote next week to reduce pensions for new hires.

The voters quoted ought to give nightmares to the unions:

Voters like Howard Delano of Willow Glen were tired of watching their city shovel more and more tax money into government pensions far more generous than their own retirement.

"It's out of control," Delano, 60, said after dropping off his ballot. "Nobody gives me a pension."

But Yolanda Cruz, president of the city's largest union, called the measure "an unfortunate way to spend taxpayer money fighting it in court because we will definitely take it there. Taxpayer money would be better used getting services back." (Translation:  "FU, voters, this is gonna cost you.")

The success of these initiatives raises some hope that statewide reform might be possible.  California unions continue to be able to coerce dues from all public employees and use them to buy off the state legislature, getting absurd compensation, work rules, and perks, such six figure incomes for prison guards who need only a GED for their jobs.   So, I have to wonder what would happen if a statewide initiative (or set of initiatives) proposed some of Scott Walker's reforms, aimed at cutting the money laundering pipeline  funneling taxpayer dollars to legislators, via the unions would have a chance of passing.

I think that the extensive coverage of the GSA Las Vegas party has shaped public perception of government workers as pampered and privileged. Mitt Romney is smart enough to pick up on all of this. So expect union reform to creep into the campaign.

It's time for the unions to panic. Public employees are heart of big labor, and may be even less popular than the fabled one percenters as people taking wealth from others.

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