By Gary Toebben
President & CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce
Three weeks ago, Gov. Jerry Brown laid out a fair and comprehensive plan to address California’s growing public employee pension liability crisis. The governor’s 12-point plan received widespread and positive news coverage from taxpayers, pension experts and media. Last week, the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce officially endorsed the governor’s plan and committed to making it one of our top priorities during the upcoming 2012 legislative session.
Monday’s Los Angeles Times column by George Skelton makes it clear that there are many key players in Sacramento who are already working to undermine the governor’s pension reform plan with legal arguments and political pressure. Their goal is to dramatically water down the governor’s plan or kick the entire can down the road until we are faced with dramatic choices like the governments of Europe. As we all know, kicking the can down the road is the preferred political strategy unless citizens and their leaders demand action today.
The wisdom and urgency of Gov. Brown’s plan applies to large states like California and small states like Rhode Island with a population one third the size of the City of Los Angeles. Rhode Island’s state pension liability is $9 billion in the red. If their state leaders do not address this crisis, 20 percent of their entire state budget will soon be required to cover its obligations for pension checks.
If you don’t think California is headed down the same road, you need to turn on your headlights. Several studies have estimated our state’s pension liability to be $500 billion. The budget cuts in education and other public services necessary to offset our increasing pension obligations are staggering and growing every year. Public education, public safety, highway maintenance, affordable housing and social services will be on the chopping block and all Californians will suffer as a result.
If legislators do not hear from voters and taxpayers like you and me, they will ignore this crisis and kick the governor’s pension reform plan down the road. We have a tsunami in the making. Contact your representatives and tell them we must act now to thwart this increasingly powerful and devastating man-made disaster.