Progress on Pensions

This morning I was making my usual tour through my two go-to news aggregation sites, the Markets and Politics sections of the Real Clear franchise. There was a link to an article in the WaPo titled “Gina Raimondo reins in Rhode Island pensions, propelling a bid for governor.”

Since I’ve posted several times on the pension issue, I checked out the article. Several elements of the story seemed especially interesting to me:

1) Raimondo is a Democrat, in a small state entirely dominated by Democrats. She won the gubernatorial nomination over two other Dems supported by the public-sector unions, both of whom opposed her reforms.

2) When she was elected Treasurer in 2010, she began a process of education of the citizens of her state, respecting their intelligence and showing the various stakeholders the consequences for other public-sector spending of the growing costs of pensions. Her message was, “I’m a progressive, and unless we do something now the future costs of pensions will squeeze out other interests (health care, schools, roads) that every progressive must support.”

3) Having won agreement on pension cuts, she remains highly popular. Telling the truth about public finances need not be political suicide.

Just as it is not clear how Chris Christie’s success attacking the issue of unfunded liabilities in New Jersey will translate into success on the national stage, it is also uncertain whether Raimondo’s success will lead other Democrats to follow suit in states with even larger unfunded entitlement problems. (Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts are among the worst.)

But it seems possible that voters may be more intelligent and deliberative than most politicians think, and that an electoral conversation based on an honest presentation of the numbers is at least possible. This suggests that our public finances, and the social democratic programs they support, may be endangered, but we are not necessarily doomed.

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