Friday, April 2, 2010

Fighting over a shrinking pie

Government is by far the most unionized sector of the work force, and among the few places left where blue-collar workers can retire with traditional lifetime pensions. This is creating some obvious conflict:
At the heart of this fight is an unbalanced equation: The economy is shrinking cities' and states' tax income as their pension and health-care costs have soared. As a result, some governments are diverting money from services to cover benefits, or raising taxes and fees. That doesn't sit well with some taxpayers—many frustrated at seeing their own benefits being cut by private-sector employers.

California offers a view of the fallout. The state's largest pension fund, the California Public Employees' Retirement System, known as Calpers, is estimated to be only 57% to 65% funded. Having suffered investment losses in recent years, the state has had to dip deeper into its revenues to make up the funding gap. Last year, a budget impasse forced the state to issue IOUs for taxpayer refunds.

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