Not content to lose their minds about public pensions, California’s conservatives have something new to freak out about – public pensions for private sector works. Joel Fox and Steve Greenhut have already thundered against legislation to open up a state pension plan for California’s private workers.
Conservatives need to cool it – and see the legislation for what it is, a huge opportunity for a conservative victory.
The legislation as it stands has huge flaws, but it achieves two goals that conservatives should embrace. For one, it encourages more retirement savings, and security for people – moves that should create more investment and free people to take chances and pursue their dreams, including starting businesses.
For another, the private sector plan offers a path to reining in pensions for public employees – if conservatives would only take it.
The new private pension plan outlined in the legislation is far more modest – and far less risky – than public pensions. There are problems with the specifics of the proposal (too detailed to get in here). Indeed, this legislation has little chance unless it minimizes risk and insists on big contributions by employees. To get this legislation through, Democrats will have to outline what constitutes a low-risk, sustainable pension system.
That’s the opportunity for conservatives. Instead of railing against it, they should support the Democrats’ search for a low-risk system. And then use that system to lower the pensions of public employees.
How? By using the new private sector employee pension system as the basis for a new, lower-risk, less-generous public system.
That’s a winning argument for Republicans. They could say: yes, we want retirement security for public workers, but nothing more generous than what private workers are getting. And nothing that creates unfunded obligations, or huge downside risks, for taxpayers.
A system like that would be a win-win – forcing big savings and reductions in public pension obligations, while extending basic retirement security to millions of Californians.
And conservatives can deliver the victory – if they would only seize the moment.