Why Props. 30 and 38 Hurt Our Children

Propositions 30 and 38 are all about our children.  No doubt about that.  But unlike the view of my friend, Paul Gullixson, who writes that a “no” vote on these propositions is about protesting the actions of the past or teaching someone a lesson, a “no” vote in fact represents a long-range vision of hope for our children’s future.  A “no” vote represents a recognition that the ocean of pension debt facing generations to come is unacceptable and must be addressed.  A “no” vote is an acknowledgment of our responsibility and a step toward reducing the burden we leave our children.

That the public employee pension crisis came about as the result of short-sighted politicians catering to the narrow interests of public employee unions is not really disputed.  Nor is the fact that the politicians who approved ever more generous and unsustainable pension packages are themselves beneficiaries of those self-interested decisions.  Nor is the fact that the billions of dollars of unfunded pension obligations at the state level and the hundreds of millions of dollars of similar obligations at the local level will surpass our lifetimes and burden generations to come.

As Paul says, many of us part company when it comes to the next step.  How are we going to deal with this mess?  Paul argues that our children should not be punished by forcing further reductions to education.  But therein lies the rub.  If we approve additional taxes to backfill money taken from education to pay for pensions, do we not at the same time remove the motivation necessary to confront the issue?

It is a well-known truism that politicians respond to pressure.  It was pressure from the employee unions that brought about the current state of affairs and it will take pressure from the greater community at large to reverse course.  That pressure will come only as the community in greater and greater numbers comes to recognize the tremendous toll pension liabilities impose and demand that something be done about it.  Approving additional taxes simply condones the irresponsible decisions that got us here and dilutes the urgency needed for reform.

If we don’t begin making meaningful efforts to reform our public employee pension systems, the problem will only continue to grow, consuming an ever increasing portion of our public budgets resulting in fewer and fewer traditional and necessary government services.  Services such as roads, parks, hospitals, senior services, veterans services, the list goes on and on.  All will be sacrificed in the name of pensions.

Already our children’s future is bleaker than ours.  Two-tier plans ensure that tomorrow’s firefighters and police officers will be paid less so that today’s firefighters and police officers can continue to enjoy their unsustainable pay and pension packages.  Future generations will not know the benefits of sound roads, public libraries, competent health delivery systems and all the other services we have come to know.  Economic and career opportunities will suffer as greater and greater tax burdens diminish the value of homes, businesses and education.

So the question becomes, do we really help our children and grandchildren by approving today additional taxes the benefits of which will last but a few years, or do we provide a greater, long-term benefit by resisting the urge to approve temporary benefits, as good as they may sound, and force elected officials to deal with the real problem?

Propositions 30 and 38 may feel good, but in the end only exacerbate the problem by allowing the pension debt to grow as the pressure needed to force politicians into action is removed.  This is why we urge “NO” votes on both Propositions 30 and 38.

Dan Drummond

Executive Director

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