Democratic Surrender on Pension Reform Could Doom Party Bid to Raise Taxes

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Democrats and the interest groups that back them made a greedy decision this week -- that will cost the state and its public institutions in the future.

That decision: to abandon pension reform.

The legislature, instead of passing measures on which there is bipartisan agreement, passed legislation promising to do something to curb pension abuses... sometime... in the future... presumably before the extinction of mankind.

Unfortunately for Democrats and labor groups, they want to get more revenues at the ballot in 2012. And it's hard to see how they'll convince voters to go along without first showing that they took difficult steps on pensions savings.

Republicans and opponents of tax increase ballot initiatives should be able to convince voters sympathetic to tax increases that the money will just be gobbled up by public employees. That will be a strong argument because opponents will be able to point to data showing that pensions survived even as popular programs will be cut.

One can understand the Democratic/labor perspective. Republicans refuse to compromise, so why should we give ground on a pet issue of theirs -- pensions -- when they won't play ball with us? 

Here's the answer: it's not about the GOP. It's about voters. And if Democrats want voters to pass their priorities or reform the broken budget system in ways that would allow investments in the state (or perhaps even give them two-thirds supermajorities in the legislature), they need to convince a skeptical public that new taxes will go to schools, better health care and better transit, not to public employees' already generous retirement.

They've just made this task harder.

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