Pen­sions, not pot

The SEIU wants to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana to help solve the state’s bud­get cri­sis. That’s a bad idea. The real so­lu­tion is pen­sion re­form.

Los Angeles Times - - Opinion - Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger

Iwas sur­prised to read that lead­ers of the state’s biggest union — the SEIU — had de­cided to en­dorse Propo­si­tion 19, which would al­low Cal­i­for­ni­ans to legally grow and pos­sess mar­i­juana. Any pa­trol of­fi­cer, judge or district at­tor­ney will tell you that Propo­si­tion 19 is a flawed ini­tia­tive that would bring about a host of le­gal night­mares and risks to pub­lic safety. It would also make Cal­i­for­nia a laugh­ing­stock.

Lead­ers of the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union say they sup­port Propo­si­tion 19 so the state can avoid cuts to health­care, home care, ed­u­ca­tion and el­derly care pro­grams. Yet even the best­case es­ti­mates show Propo­si­tion 19 (as­sum­ing it would even pass con­sti­tu­tional muster) bring­ing in only $1.4 bil­lion in an­nual rev­enue — a frac­tion of our cur­rent deficit.

The SEIU could em­brace a far bet­ter and more re­spon­si­ble so­lu­tion for sav­ing state pro­grams: pen­sion re­form.

Get­ting a han­dle on pen­sions would pre­serve far more jobs and pre­vent many more cuts than le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana, and it would do so with­out the le­gal com­pli­ca­tions and safety risks in­her­ent in Propo­si­tion 19.

Yet for the past year, the SEIU’s lead­ers have been fight­ing tooth-and-nail against com­mon­sense mea­sures to rein in a debt that is un­sus­tain­able and is se­verely af­fect­ing the state’s fi­nances.

In­deed, Cal­i­for­nia is suf­fer­ing from a se­ries of ir­re­spon­si­ble de­ci­sions by SEIU-backed politi­cians, who have guar­an­teed huge re­tire­ment ben­e­fits to state work­ers with­out set­ting aside the money to pay for them. Be­cause of this, we have $550 bil­lion in un­funded re­tire­ment debt that is cost­ing us $6.5 bil­lion this year. With­out re­form, that un­funded debt will dou­ble in cost ev­ery 4.5 years.

A sin­gle bill the Leg­is­la­ture passed in 1999 — SB 400, which retroac­tively boosted state work­ers’ pen­sions with­out a way to pay for it — is now re­spon­si­ble for about $2.5 bil­lion of this year’s deficit. State pen­sion costs for CalPERS are more than 2,000% higher to­day than they were 10 years ago, and that’s not a mis­print.

How in the world can any­one con­sider that an even dis­tri­bu­tion of the peo­ple’s money? And how could some­one think le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana is the best way to solve it?

Six state em­ploy­ees unions have reached agree­ments with the state to roll back pen­sions for new hires. For ex­am­ple, the deal the Cal­i­for­nia Assn. of High­way Pa­trol­men and other unions ne­go­ti­ated re­quires new em­ploy­ees to work ad­di­tional years to re­ceive full ben­e­fits, bases fi­nal re­tire­ment com­pen­sa­tion on the high­est three years of wages in­stead of the high­est year, and in­creases the amount em­ploy­ees must con­trib­ute to­ward their re­tire­ment to a min­i­mum of 10%.

These are rea­son­able changes to the sys­tem that mem­bers of these unions have ac­cepted. They have made it pos­si­ble for the unions’ mem­bers to avoid fur­loughs dur­ing this eco­nomic cri­sis, and they have less­ened the state’s long-term debt. Sim­i­lar changes with the rest of the unions would pre­serve fund­ing for higher ed­u­ca­tion, pub­lic safety, health­care, home care, ed­u­ca­tion and el­derly care pro­grams.

Sadly, SEIU’s lead­er­ship is re­fus­ing to make any roll­backs to pen­sions. We un­der­stand that in­ter­est groups must fight for their mem­bers, but for the SEIU to en­dorse le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana means it is will­ing to risk pub­lic safety to pro­tect un­sus­tain­able pen­sion costs.

The no­tion that we have to choose be­tween le­gal­iz­ing drugs and ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing or care for the el­derly is false. The an­swer is to pri­or­i­tize the money we al­ready have, and fund­ing pen­sions 2,000% higher than we were 10 years ago means we don’t have our pri­or­i­ties straight.

SEIU mem­bers should tell their lead­er­ship that in­stead of fo­cus­ing on ex­trem­ist causes, they could agree to some com­mon-sense roll­backs in what new work­ers are guar­an­teed. No one is ask­ing for dra­co­nian con­ces­sions; even af­ter changes to bring costs un­der con­trol, we would still spend $2 bil­lion more on com­pen­sa­tion and ben­e­fits this year than last.

There are no magic so­lu­tions to our state’s prob­lems, but there are some man­age­able ones, and SEIU’s lead­ers know what they are. Scal­ing back pen­sions, not le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana, would show our chil­dren that we have our pri­or­i­ties right.

Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger is gover­nor of Cal­i­for­nia.

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