The American public feels it is drowning in red ink. It is dismayed and even outraged at the burgeoning national deficits, unbalanced state and local budgets, and accounting that often masks the extent of indebtedness. There is a mounting sense that taxpayers are being taken for an expensive ride by public-sector unions. The extraordinary benefits the unions have secured for their members are going to be harder and harder to pay.
It is galling for private-sector workers to see so many public-sector workers thriving because of the power their unions exercise. Take California. Investigative journalist Steve Malanga points out in the City Journal that California's schoolteachers are the nation's highest paid; its prison guards can make six-figure salaries; many state workers retire at 55 with pensions that are higher than the base pay they got most of their working lives.
What we suffer is a ruinously expensive collaboration between elected officials and unionized state and local workers, purchased with taxpayer money. "Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours."
Public unions organize voting campaigns for politicians who, on election, repay their benefactors by approving salaries and benefits for the public sector, irrespective of whether they are sustainable. And what is happening in California is happening in slower motion in the rest of the country.
The lopsided subsidies for pension and health costs are a large part of the fiscal crises at the state and local levels. The subsequent squeeze on education and infrastructure investment is undermining the very programs that have made it possible for our economy to grow.
City government was developed to serve its citizens. Today the citizenry is working in large part to serve the government. It is always hard to shrink government spending. It is particularly difficult when public-sector unions have such a unique lever of pressure.
We have to escape this cycle or it will crush us.