How did the balance of power in the public sector become so out of whack? The public unions often elect the management that they negotiate with. They organize voting campaigns for politicians who, upon election, repay their benefactors by approving salaries and benefits for the public sector employees, irrespective of whether they are sustainable, and the unions don't worry about bankrupting those sitting opposite them at the table. The taxpayer-funded public service unions have essentially dictated the terms of their employment to the taxpayers they are supposed to serve.
Government employees are better off in almost every area than private sector employees, be it in paid benefits, time off, or job security. Pensions are particularly irritating, for many state workers can retire in their mid-50s at close to full pay and receive pensions for far more years than they have worked, even though they are young enough to take another job. If you take their pensions' present value in terms of the cash you would need to buy an annuity making payments equal to the pension, we have created a new class of millionaires.
Just think, in 2008, the average wage for the 1.9 million federal civilian workers was more than $79,000, compared to an average of slightly over $50,000 for the nation's 108 million private sector workers (measured in full-time equivalents), even though most federal workers cannot bargain over their pay and benefits. Ninety percent of government employees receive lifetime pension benefits versus 18 percent of private employees, not to mention annual salary increases and earlier retirement with instant, guaranteed benefits paid for with the taxes of the very same private sector workers. About 84 percent of state and local government employees have access to defined-benefit plans that are no longer widely available in the private sector.
More and more people recognize that when it comes to state obligations for pensions and benefits, we are looking at a financial train wreck. If anything, the public wants more and not less of this policy of holding down taxes and cutting back on the scale of government expenses, so as to ensure funding for core government services such as libraries, parks, and healthcare. So much so that in Wisconsin some 38 percent of union households voted for Walker; he received over 200,000 more votes than he got just 18 months ago.
Liberal Mort Zuckerman realizes that what cannot continue won't - and aims at superior ways of stopping it than a train wreck. Would that more take the same path.