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But Greenhut has found encouragement in some liberal quarters, and he cites Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger adviser David Crane.
“Crane said that one cannot be a true progressive without embracing pension reform because of the harm pension liabilities are causing to the programs progressives claim to value,” Greenhut says.
So has national media coverage of the pension and pay scandals increased Greenhut’s hope for reform?
“The situation remains dire but not hopeless,” he says. “My biggest financial fear is that politicians will embrace just enough minor reform to claim victory, and then go on to business as usual without really fixing the long-standing pension debt or the imbalance in benefit levels between the public and private sector. However, I remain pessimistic about the prospects for more transparency and accountability and for a rethinking of the power that public officials exert over the populace. That debate is only just beginning.”
It’s a debate the folks at TheLiberalOC, recently named top local political blog at the OC Press Club, are eager to join in opposition. The battle is sure to remain intense because the blog’s Chris Prevatt (who is also a county union official) isn’t willing to concede that government pensions is a topic for public debate. He even says that specific retiree benefits—like the ones causing so much outrage—should be secret, and he has blasted inquisitive reporters.
“It is not the job of individual taxpayers to evaluate the performance of public employees,” says Prevatt, a 2004 delegate to the Democratic National Convention. “That is between the employee and their manager.”
“How arrogant to want to further shut down public records,” responds Greenhut, who can’t hide his contempt that union leaders want “a shield from accountability.”
From his view, “Taxpayers have every right and duty to be concerned. Actually, Prevatt’s ‘It’s none of your business; we know best’ attitude epitomizes the core thesis of my book. The public servants have become the public’s masters. It’s time for the public to remind the government-employee class that it is supposed to work for us.”
This column appeared in print as "Death and Taxes . . . and Now Huge Government Pensions? While the public wasn’t listening to Steven Greenhut, the certainties of life changed."