You read that headline right. In his weekly radio address on Saturday, Gov. Schwarzenegger said Republican legislators tried to block badly needed public pension reform. The reason for this seemed to be because they were getting large contributions from the prison guards union. He said he expected Democrats to oppose pension reform because “most Democrats are in bed with labor”, but what he did not expect was that the bill would initially fail because a few Republicans, from “the group who rails against government spending,” specifically opposed the bill.
Further, he said those legislators have accepted more than $75,000 from the prison guards union. “Now normally you get $1,000 or $500 or a $2,000 contribution. But $75,000? Why did they give them all this money? Maybe to fight against the pension reforms. Maybe. You figure it out.”
In a genuinely sleazy and cynical move, the governor says several of those Republicans changed their vote afterward so the official record wouldn’t show they sided with unions. “Not only did they try to block reform, but then they did not even have the courage to publicly stand behind their action.”
Why is changing your vote like this even permissible? This is this opposite of transparency, and precisely what California doesn’t need. But, it appears our state political system is awash in campaign contribution money and that legislators can pretend to be what they are not. This certainly gives the impression that votes are for sale to the highest bidder.
Schwarzenegger got the bill passed by calling a special session of the legislature, which required getting a signature from Secretary of State Bowen at 3 AM. He has been steadfast in working towards pension reform, and has stood his ground on this while those around him crawled, something other politicians might consider doing too.
Look, everyone wants to have a nice pension and certainly what prison guards do can be dangerous. But the simple, if politically unpopular truth, is that California cannot afford the public pensions it is paying for. Schwarzenegger’s bill is a step in the right direction, but California’s unfunded pension liability reaches into the hundreds of billions. This problem will not go away by pretending it’s not there, or by the legislature catering to special interests above that of the state as a whole.
Schwarzenegger will be out of office soon. So he can be blunt (and certainly was!). He was saying that our entire political process at the state level is compromised by too many lobbyists and too much cash. We should heed what he said. Then take action.