Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Dear Big Daddy,
All this talk about public pensions, how did you do okay in your pension?
–Curious in Carlsbad

Dear Curious,
I did fine, thank you very much: My benefits were unparalleled. Made good money, lots of people and challenges, an honored old age, excellent parking, time to reflect.
That’s because I never retired. I died in harness. I learned that in Texas and later in the Army – always die in harness.

And that’s my secret for good public pensions: Don’t collect one. It’s like Major Major in Catch-22 who schedules appointments only when he’s not in the office.

If you never retire, you never have to worry about benefits. You’ll never fear for future uncertainty, because you know what the future holds – work. You never have to worry about pensions, because who but Wall Street pays pensions – also dubbed “bonuses” – for people who are still working?

You won’t have to fear the pension-bashers in the media who make a living out of demonizing public workers and you won’t have to fear the Republicans in the Legislature who not only hate public employees but would like to eliminate all public pensions.
Those screaming the loudest about public pensions are those, many ultra wealthy, who have absolutely no need for them and don’t rely on them. Presumably, their taxes help finance the pensions, although since many pay proportionately less tax than those with more modest incomes, their problem seems less than compelling. I bet Warren Buffet isn’t worrying about public pensions, and he’s the smartest money guy in the country.

Another oddity: Public pension cuts don’t seem to resonate at the federal level, and one reason is pure politics. When a politician is figuring out patronage, benefits become a key lure. Cut the benefits and you cheapen the beat. Elected officials who aren’t termed out – as in Congress – know well this simple political calculation. Longevity translates into power.
But in California, our term-limited Legislature has no sense of long-term pork and leveraging government through favors.

Don’t believe what you hear about smoke-filled rooms and lack of transparency in the Capitol being problems. It’s exactly the opposite: Secrecy, wheeling and dealing, pushing the envelope and taking risks, trading favors for action, firing the stubborn and comforting the loyal, picking only those fights you can win and apologizing only when absolutely necessary – this is what really makes government work.

It’s a great game and the only time there are problems is when the public gets involved. I know we’re supposed to trust voters – actually, we have to trust them – but I don’t trust people I don’t know. I’d say let’s get just a few of them in a closed room and do a deal.

Willie Brown knows what I’m talking about: He said he and Ken Maddy could sit down and solve any state problem in half an hour. That’s true, too. I went over to Maddy’s place the other day, but he was at the El Rancho working out.

And the people in this game aren’t pension worriers. If they were worried about security, they’d be in some other game.

But this state in its heyday came out from behind closed doors with proposals – negotiated in private – that later won public approval.

Generous pensions were one of those.

Go figure.


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