Source: DailyNews.com | July 31, 2011
Day laborers crowding the entrance to Home Depot. Seniors dumped out of day care programs. Students shut out of public higher education because of cost. This is what ignoring pension reform looks like. Until now, the effects of many of the budget cuts by state, county and city governments have been visible only around the edges of society. The average person could ignore them. They hit home at someone else’s house.
But now the effects are showing up in everyday life.
They are the theme that links a handful of news stories this month.
The closures of day-labor centers that had been funded by Los Angeles-area cities took away such services as health services, English lessons and protection from exploitive employers. It also sent manual laborers back to Home Depot stores and other unofficial gathering spots to look for work, often to the annoyance of pers.
The discontinuation of state funding for California’s 300 adult day health care centers, including dozens in the San Fernando Valley, raised fears that ailing and isolated senior citizens would be denied medical attention and the company of other people. The responsibility for helping them will fall to other cash-strapped agencies and to seniors’ families.
Cuts in state funding for public education prompted tuition increases of 12 percent for the California State University system and 9.6 percent for the University of California system just weeks before the start of the 2011-12 academic year. That’s a terrible blow for many students and families, for whom money may be scarce anyway these days.
Unfortunately, we’d better get used to such tangible symptoms of government budget crunches.
It is easy but only slightly correct for elected officials to put all of this down to the economic downturn. Leaders themselves deserve blame for signing off on unsustainable benefits for public employees and delaying hard choices.
The day was bound to come when the growing pension obligations would balloon – much like the mortgages that force thousands to walk away from their homes.
City leaders talk about huge revenue gaps. The trouble is not the incoming money, which has stayed roughly the same or grown. The trouble is the cost of servicing the debt and obligations incurred by generations of politicians who traded employee benefits for support and re-election.
Recently, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council scored a small victory on this count by extracting concessions on health-benefits payments from the city’s police force. Of course, to achieve that, the city had to give the police pay raises of 7 percent over three years, handing off a budget headache to another mayor and council.
As one of the largest drains on public funds in the state, pensions and other retirement benefits are siphoning off billions of dollars right off the top of any budget. The downturn in the market only increased the liability. It didn’t create the problem.
Politicians know that most of the electorate finds the issue of pension reform to be vague, esoteric and inaccessible. They know they can take the easy way now because they will no longer be in office – at least, not their current office – when the chickens come home to roost.
Voters have let politicians get away with this, and now, all around us, we see the results of this failure embodied by laborers going back to the Home Depot, seniors being displaced, students leaving college. Chickens roosting.