Steve Malanga wrote an excellent article for City Journal about how public sector unions have controlled, and ruined, California, The Beholden State:
How public employees became members of the elite class in a declining California offers a cautionary tale to the rest of the country, where the same process is happening in slower motion. The story starts half a century ago, when California public workers won bargaining rights and quickly learned how to elect their own bosses—that is, sympathetic politicians who would grant them outsize pay and benefits in exchange for their support. Over time, the unions have turned the state’s politics completely in their favor. The result: unaffordable benefits for civil servants; fiscal chaos in Sacramento and in cities and towns across the state; and angry taxpayers finally confronting the unionized masters of California’s unsustainable government.
“Read the whole thing,” as they say. It is a fascinating and depressing account of how public sector unions killed the California golden goose by co-opting the legislature through campaign contributions and voting blocks.
With all due respect, however, the situation in my home state of Rhode Island is much worse. In Rhode Island, the public sector unions not only have co-opted the legislature through campaign contributions and voting blocks. That is the stuff of mere mortal states.
In Rhode Island, current or former public sector union members with pensions or awaiting pensions constitute a majority of the state legislature. Which presents a problem as the Governor attempts to pass pension and public sector benefits reform in the face of a crushing budget deficit and massive underfunded public pensions.
From the Providence Journal, For many in R.I. General Assembly, pension issue is personal (emphasis mine):
Many of Rhode Island’s part-time legislators have more than a passing interest in the outcome of the State House pension debate.
At least 14 of them are already collecting state or local pensions from their former day jobs outside the State House. Many more are in line to receive pensions, at some point, that could grow or shrink depending on what the General Assembly decides to do to rein in the exploding cost of retirement promises made to public employees that will cost taxpayers upward of $334.1 million this year….
At least half, 55 of the 113 lawmakers, have a publicly-financed pension, or between 1 and 33 years of credit toward a possible pension from a city-, town- or state-financed pension fund in Rhode Island.
If California is the model for public sector unions controlling the state, Rhode Island is the model for public sector unions becoming the state.
Update: Jennifer Rubin has a post about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie targeting public employee unions in an attempt to balance the budget:
In the past, the “solution” to all this was to raise taxes, which created an exodus of the “rich” and small businesses to neighboring states. But Christie is taking a page from another northeastern Republican (and another former federal prosecutor) who when he came into office was told he had to raise taxes, but proceeded to show that budget discipline and tax cuts could revive the greatest of American cities. Rudy Giuliani became a conservative rock star and New York came roaring back. If Christie pulls this off, he will not only elevate himself to the top tier of Republican politicians; he will also point the way to taming state budgets (California, are you paying attention?).
I’m not sure such a thing is possible in Rhode Island because the legislators have an inherent conflict of interest.