Patt Morrison for February 23, 2011

What do Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and California have in common? Public employee pension problems, minus the rancor

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Mira Oberman/AFP/Getty Images

An estimated 65,000 protestors descended on Wisconsin's legislature on February 19, 2011 in the fifth day of mass demonstrations against a Republican plan to bust public workers unions.

In California the Legislative Analyst Office pegs the estimated medium-term unfunded liabilities for government employee pensions at $136 billion—in the next 10 years taxpayers will be on the hook for somewhere between $325 - $500 billion to fill shortfalls in all pension funds. In that sense the conflicts in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and beyond are very similar to California, where states are broke, public service employees are owed pension and benefits plans and those pension plans are dramatically under-funded. The difference, so far, is that California’s public employee unions and the state government have been inclined to work together to close those shortfalls, rather than resorting to the confrontations seen in Wisconsin between angry unions and an angry governor who has shown no signs of budging. But the core problems are the same and they will require steep sacrifices on the parts of public workers and compromises on the part of the state. In California Wisconsin-like bills have been introduced to force concessions from the unions and to eliminate collective bargaining agreements—can the Golden State’s public workers and government work together on a solution or are we destined for the same kind of standoff?

Guest:

Diane Palmer, president of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin & the SEIU Wisconsin State Council

Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of Reason magazine & Reason.com

Yvonne Walker, president of SEIU Local 1000, representing over 95,000 California public employees

Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the L.A. County Federation of Labor; leading a group of union members who arrived in Madison, Wisconsin, this morning


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