While much of this week’s election focus was on the Wisconsin recall of Governor Scott Walker, who created a firestorm of controversy by taking on public sector unions and limited collective bargaining for state employees, voters in California made similar waves with decisions on pension reform.
With the California budget approximately $16 billion in the hole, San Diego and San Jose voters took their municipal fiscal matters into their own hands and cut benefits for city employees. Supporters of both measures relied on a relatively simple pitch to get their message across: public sector pensions, which are often higher than private sector pensions, are draining city resources. The Wall Street Journal called it a “watershed moment” with voters in liberally-minded San Jose and more conservative San Diego approving the measures in their respective cities by more than two-to-one. Public sector unions are expected to appeal the decision in court, saying voters can’t unilaterally take away vested programs.
Now, many are waiting to see how California Governor Jerry Brown will deal with the state’s need for pension reform, and if the Democrat-controlled statehouse will agree to his proposals. Back when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor, he often criticized the “dysfunction” in Sacramento that led to the state’s inability to embrace change.
But University of California-Berkeley professor George Lakoff explained that the state’s budget crisis is actually a result “minority rule” in the legislature.