Did Meg Whitman kill the effort to restrain public pensions?


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A lot of gnashing of teeth, anger and anguish about the extent and cost of pension benefits for government workers has been occurring the last year or so. “Excessive”, “unsustainable” and “unjustified” are words commonly used to describe the retirement benefits of government employees who work 30 years or more in their jobs and then retire, some with six figure retirements.

So-called taxpayer groups (primarily made up of powerful special interests, not individual taxpayers) and people who delight in stirring the cauldron of public opinion have been beating the drums about the need for reform or even taxpayer revolt to reign in these retirement programs. To stir up that pot even more the names of public sector retirees and their annual pensions are appearing in newspapers as a tool to whip up public sentiment as well as to try and embarrass the retirees.

Even when there is a perceived economic catastrophe in government financing, there is money to be made, such as in selling books. Witness Mr. Steven Greenhut, a former Orange County Register writer and now an independent columnist based in Sacramento. A few months ago the book he wrote titled “Plunder” hit the market. It focuses on the perceived growing political power of government employees as illustrated by their pay, benefits and other aspects of their very existence.

A growing chorus of “something must be done” about the legions of government employees, their pay and benefits has come from advocates such as Greenhut, John Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Reed Royalty of the Orange County Taxpayers Association, John Moorlach of the Orange County Board of Supervisors and Chris Street, the Orange County Tax Collector-Treasurer and current defendant in a multi-million dollar lawsuit challenging his private sector role as a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee.

I reported in this blog a few weeks ago about rumors that Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and her backers, originally thought to be supporters of a proposed California initiative aimed at limiting future State employee retirement benefits, were backing away from supporting such an initiative after all. The reason? Fear that if the initiative was on the November ballot it might spur legions of public employees to vote and, horror of horrors, that exercise of freedom could impact the outcome of the gubernatorial election!

Today in the Orange County Register Steven Geenhut confirms this rumor. In an opinion piece he authored titled “Retreat from pension reform fight” he goes further, stating that the backers of the initiative, the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility (a non-profit organization with an advisory board of some of the same politicians mentioned a couple paragraphs back), have withdrawn the effort to qualify it for the November ballot. Greenhut gives the reason as the apparent action of Whitman as well as Governor Schwarzenegger to distance themselves from the proposed initiative because of concerns about how it might impact the November election for Governor.

The way I read Greenhut’s article there is considerable melancholy in it about what might have been and how Whitman, the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility and other early backers of the proposed initiative have caved in, at least for now. Greenhut also labels the so-called “business community” as having taken a walk on this issue, fearing the initiative would energize union voters. Can you believe that – afraid to put a cause dearly held on the ballot for fear people would actually show up and vote on it!

So, it seems Whitman and her backers believe nothing is more important that capturing a trophy for Whitman – the office of Governor. She is about buying tons of T.V. ads in which she provides no specifics, and the latest ads focus on attacking her Republican rival, Steve Poizner. Seems a campaign certain to produce low voter turnout. Perhaps it will be good for book sales though. Then again, maybe not.


About Over But Not Out

A retired Orange County employee, and moderate Republican. The editor seriously does not know OBNO's identity as did not the former editor, but his point of view is obviously interesting and valued.