By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The idea that public employees have gold-plated benefits packages is, in a flagging economy, potentially toxic, prompting some public officials to address the issue head on.
In one prominent example, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie kicked off a firestorm of protest when he proposed that the state’s teachers begin making contributions to their pension plans. So far Christie, who is refusing to back down despite threats from teachers’ union officials, seems to be winning the argument because, with national unemployment near 10 percent and federal and state deficits at record levels, folks who are tightening their belts at home are put off by what they view as the selfishness of public employees who refuse to give even an inch.
This sentiment is not confined to New Jersey. A recent national survey by Resurgent Republic, an organization started by former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, found that voters are increasingly concerned about the high levels of pay and benefits that federal employees enjoy, which are now on average higher than what private sector workers earn.
[Read Mort Zuckerman on the crippling price of public employee unions]
By a 62 to 19 percent margin--including a 47 to 30 percent margin among Democrats, a 65 to 14 percent margin among Independents, and a 77 to 12 percent margin among Republicans–respondents said that having a federal work force that was more generously compensated than workers in the private sector “was a bad thing for our country.”
There are also efforts to make changes at the local level. In Menlo Park, Calif., voters are being given the opportunity to bring the escalating costs of public employee pensions under control in the upcoming November election.
According to the San Jose, Calif., Mercury News, the city council unanimously approved a citizen-proposed measure that would “make all new hires except police officers eligible to retire at age 60 with 2 percent of their highest salary multiplied by the number of years of service. Current employees who get 2.7 percent at age 55 would remain unaffected.”
Local unions are unhappy about the move and are threatening to bring suit. But the idea that generous public employee pensions are now on the table, even in the modest way that Christie and the citizens of Menlo Park want to address them, is inescapable.