Monday, November 12 , 2018, 4:57 pm | Fair 72º


Tom Donohue: Governors Show Leadership on Budgets, Pensions

Most states are proposing that unionized employees contribute more to health care and benefits

The fiscal crisis in many states has crested recently as reform-minded governors seek to avert insolvency and address structural budget problems. While many factors have contributed to state budget woes — including declining revenues, rising health-care costs and chronic overspending — unaffordable and unsustainable salaries, pensions and other benefits for unionized government workers are a substantial part of the problem.

It’s not difficult to understand how we got here. Unionized government workers have tremendous leverage to negotiate their own wages and benefits. They funnel tens of millions of dollars to elect candidates who will sit across from them at the negotiating table.

This self-dealing has resulted in ever-increasing wage and benefit packages for unionized government workers that often far outstrip those for comparable private-sector workers. These unsustainable obligations are threatening to bankrupt state governments. And when the money to cover these obligations falls short, these same politicians turn to the private sector for more taxes, undermining economic growth and jobs.

To their credit, many governors are trying to break this cycle. Although proposals vary from state to state, most involve requiring unionized state government employees to contribute more — or at least something — to their health-care and pension benefits. Some require restricting or eliminating collective bargaining rights for unionized government workers. Even President Franklin Roosevelt and labor leader George Meany believed that government workers should not have the right to collective bargaining.

Unionized government employees and their supporters have become unhinged at any hint of reform. They compare their protests to those sweeping the Middle East as repressed citizens struggle for democracy. (The irony of their supporters in state legislatures fleeing their states to avoid the democratic process is apparently lost on them!) Widespread sick-outs by teachers and others are not winning them public relations points.

Ultimately, this is not a matter of what the unionized workers are willing to concede, but what the taxpayers — their bosses — are willing to support. Their message in November was loud and clear.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie, when booed by an audience of union members, said: “Why are you yelling at me? I’m the first guy to come along and tell you the truth about how your pensions are going to go bankrupt. I’m not making promises I can’t keep. I’m trying to save your pensions, not eliminate them.”

As governors lead on tough budget problems, let’s hope our elected officials in Washington are watching — and learning.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.