PUBLIC SAFETY UNIONS
The scandal at the Baltimore City Detention Center has captured the attention of the D.C. metro area. One gang leader has allegedly sired four children with corrections officers. While drugs and sex were being trafficked, Chuck Lane of the Washington Post points out that the corrections officers' union lobbied the Maryland legislature for legislation that made it nearly impossible to transfer, fire, or discipline corrections officers. Since the law's passage in 2010, jail managers have been nearly completely emasculated. Corruption now has legal protection thanks to union political action, a point that the union now seeks to downplay.
One of the challenges facing New York City is that all of its labor contracts with unions representing city workers have expired. If Mayor Bloomberg is unable to negotiate any deals with the city's workers, he will leave his successor a possibly $8 billion problem in the form of retroactive pay increases (the equivalent of the budgets of fire, corrections, and sanitation departments combined). The mayor's office has said that it will only sign contracts where the unions forego retroactive raises, increase employee contributions to healthcare premiums, and provide incentives for workers to live healthier lifestyles. The Mayor needs to reduce healthcare costs, which are rising rapidly and threaten to crowd out spending on other priorities. Right now 95% of city workers pay nothing toward their health premiums.
Few groups of employees have a more lucrative deal than government firefighters. In California, their compensation packages average in the $170,000s, they can retire at age 50 with 90 percent or more of their final year's pay, and they have light work schedules (paid while sleeping, multiple days off in a row). The job dangers are vastly overstated. Yet the Obama administration believes that modest efforts to reform the unsustainable pension deals these folks receive is an attempt to destroy unions and push firefighters into poverty. As the Weekly Standard reported this week, Acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris spoke at the International Association of Firefighters conference, where he mocked corporate CEOs and small-government activists and let loose with some red-meat working-class-solidarity rhetoric. This is just politics, but it certainly is irresponsible and delusional.
For a dominant political figure, Calvin Coolidge was an unusual type: taciturn, frugal, and almost unbelievably wonky.
Most intriguingly, Coolidge preferred to say "no." In her new biography of Coolidge, Amity Shales shows that his naysaying disposition not only wasn't a political liability, it was in fact critical to his rise.
Conservatives have a "you had me at hello" attitude towards pension reform, but liberals take some persuading, due to their sympathy for public employee unions and their instinct to view every fiscal problem as a revenue problem.
To overcome such hang-ups, liberals should read and reflect on Ezra Klein's argument about why the federal deficit should matter to them. Klein agrees with Paul Krugman about the importance of countercyclical spending and disagrees with Marco Rubio's recent assertion that government borrowing is now crowding out private investment (although that did seem to happen in the 90s). Klein worries about a different "crowding out" effect, namely that of discretionary programs by entitlement cost growth. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are not the "most worthwhile" forms of government spending, but rather investments that government makes in our common future, such as education, scientific research, and infrastructure. The latter are what are threatened by sequestration, which Klein implies is not just a political accident, but critical evidence that liberals should not dismiss the deficit.