Something astonishing happened in New Jersey last week. A majority Democratic legislature and a Republican governor agreed on a measure that will cut benefits for the state's 750,000 employees and retirees.
Like Wisconsin and other states that are being forced to deal with large budget deficits caused mostly by sweetheart deals struck in more prosperous times between politicians who need votes and labor unions who deliver them, New Jersey couldn't afford to go on like this.
The new law "will sharply increase what state and local workers must contribute for their health insurance and pensions." And in a major whack at rising costs, will also suspend "cost-of-living increases . . . raise retirement ages and curb the unions' contract bargaining rights," writes Richard Perez-Pena last Thursday in The New York Times.
Gov. Chris Christie's administration estimates the deal will save New Jersey $132 billion over the next 30 years. That would be a real saving, unlike the Obama administration's phony prediction of cost reductions with his national health insurance law, which is now being challenged in the courts.
Predictably, labor unions are excoriating Democrats who joined Republicans to pass the law, but even "tax and spend" Democrats are beginning to realize we can't go on like this and the future of the country is more important than seeking short-term partisan political advantage.
A new study co-authored by Joshua Rauh of Northwestern University and Robert Novy-Marx of the University of Rochester, both finance professors, has concluded that without a change in their pension systems, federal, state, and local governments "will need to raise taxes by $1,398 per household every year for the next 30 years if they are to fully fund their pension systems." The study also found that New Jersey "will need to increase its revenue by the largest margin, requiring $2,475 more from each household per year." That's if the new law hadn't passed.
Last week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a frightening report that concluded the ratio of debt to gross domestic product (GDP) this year would be 69 percent. That's seven percentage points higher than last year. By 2021, the CBO predicts that without a serious recalibration in Social Security, Medicare, and other spending, debt will quickly reach 76 percent of GDP, but the "debt held by the public would exceed 100 percent of GDP" 10 years from now. Interest on the debt is now more than the entire GDP of some nations.
The Federal Reserve last week issued a gloomy forecast for the U.S. economy. It noted "slower than expected growth" and warned of "higher inflation." Can anyone say "Jimmy Carter"? This and many other signs give the lie to the Obama administration's claims about last year's "summer of recovery" and other rosy scenarios about sluggish economic growth and "job creation."
Do I hear the echo of Ronald Reagan who said during his 1980 campaign for president, "A recession is when your neighbor loses his job; a depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."
The Obama administration, which now "owns" the economy, as acknowledged by Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is incapable of turning things around as long as it remains mired in its Keynesian, redistributionist, punish the successful and subsidize the unsuccessful mentality.
In justifying his vote for meaningful entitlement reform in New Jersey, Assemblyman Angel Fuentes, a Democrat from Camden, told The New York Times, "These reforms are unquestionably bitter pills for us to swallow, but they are reasonable and they are necessary."
Are there enough "reasonable" Democrats in Congress who will join with reasonable Republicans and do what is necessary to repair what out-of-control spending, unlimited benefits, and entitlements are doing to the federal government and to the other 49 states? If not, in the coming election, voters will have another opportunity to increase reasonable representation in Congress and in the White House.
Whoever thought traditionally liberal states like New Jersey and Wisconsin would lead the way.
© 2011 Tribune Media Services Inc.