11.30.2011

The Progressive Case for Tackling Public Sector Pensions


Three cheers to Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island's treasurer, for not only getting the tiny state's pension costs under control, but being motivated to do so to preserve important public services. Consider this excerpt from Time Magazine's article on her:

"'I still believe in the power of government to make lives better, and I believe that if someone is willing to take a stand, other people will follow,' she says. 'Those diplomas on my wall would not be there without the GI Bill that educated my father, without the public library, without the RIPTA bus.' In other words, the progressive case for tackling bankrupt public-sector pensions rests on the idea that government has obligations to the future as well as to the past. That may sound obvious, but it is a theory that crosses a major Democratic fault line. The stewards of past obligations - namely the unions representing public-school teachers and other government employees - have been the backbone and sinew of the party for a generation. The unions are among the biggest donors, and their members pound the pavement at election time. They have no interest in giving up the fruits of their loyalty."

Quite ballsy of the rookie Democratic politician to do the right thing rather than kowtow to the power players within her party. But she's absolutely right: if we don't get our spending in order, we run the risk of defaulting on the ability to provide the essential services we will need in the future.

Deficit reduction at any level has morphed into a charged moral issue and an ideological litmus test. But kudos to Raimondo for boiling it down to its essential choice: do we rein in our spending, or do we create burdens now that hinder our ability to provide for the future? Which would we rather save our money for: yesterday's obligations or tomorrow's needed public services?

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