If it's in the News, it's in our Polls. Public opinion polling since 2003.


Hotel California's $36,000 Price Tag

A Commentary By Debra J. Saunders

In the United Kingdom, Tory Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that his new coalition government will have to invoke austerity cuts that could affect Brits for years, even decades. New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie has turned into a conservative hero for telling an irate teacher who complained about her pay at a town hall meeting that she doesn't have to teach. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill in April to cut pension benefits for new state workers -- it raises the full-pension retirement age to 67 and bases pension benefits on the last eight years' salaries -- and he's a Democrat.

The spirit has spread even to what Christie refers to as Hotel California. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vowed not to sign a budget that doesn't include pension reform for new state workers. "I will hold up the budget," Schwarzenegger told Politico.com, "It doesn't matter how long it drags -- into the summer or fall or into November or after my administration -- and I think people will support that."

Last week, the Libertarian-leaning Reason Foundation released a report that found that California's unfunded pension liability "translates to roughly $36,000 for each California household." Author Adam B. Summers called the current system "unsustainable and unaffordable."

It's been too tempting for dysfunctional Sacramento to pass pricey pension bonanzas. For example, in 1999, Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill that retroactively allowed some state employees to retire at age 50 with a pension as high as 90 percent of the last year's salary.

Schwarzenegger tried to fix the problem. In 2005, he proposed ending state employees' generous defined-benefit pensions by setting up 401(k)-style plans for new state hires. He collected 400,000 signatures for a special-election ballot measure toward that end.

Did a grateful public rally behind Schwarzenegger? Short answer: No.

The governator did himself no favor by drafting a flawed measure that failed to address death and disability benefits. Schwarzenegger pulled the measure when it became clear there was little appetite for an augmented, improved version. As he explained, "I saw friends of law enforcement officers and crime victims and widows, many of them Republicans, saying, 'Please, governor.'"

To which he replied: Uncle.

Later that year, Schwarzenegger watched voters defeat three other measures -- including an initiative to curb state spending -- with depressed turnout in GOP strongholds. If you can't get Republicans to back you when you're trying to cut state spending, what's the point in sticking your thick neck out?

But with this broad national popular push to control out-of-control government costs, Schwarzenegger could succeed this year.

His economic adviser David Crane believes that the time is ripe for the governor's proposed defined-benefit version of the 2005 overhaul. For one thing, current state workers are paying dearly for retirees' benefits.

They have had to endure furloughs, and as long as the status quo continues, he argued, they face "reduced chances for pay increases."

Also, the more Sacramento pays and owes yesterday's workforce, the less Sacto can spend on programs dear to progressives today.

"If Illinois can do it," Crane told me, "California can do it."  Or maybe Illinois can do it, but Hotel California still can't.


See Other  Political Commentary                                  

See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.

We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.

Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $4.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.

To learn more about our methodology, click here.