Link Pension Reform With Tax Increases

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How about a trade -- rollbacks in public employee pensions in exchange for a tax increase?

The notion of such an exchange is an obvious one -- and would seem to fit the politics of the moment, and particularly the priorities of Gov. Jerry Brown.

The governor is looking at ways to raise revenue at the ballot next year -- at the same that he'd like voters to endorse the pieces of his 12-step pension proposal.

Both policies make sense.

Pension and retiree health obligations for public workers are huge--and unsustainable. A growing state needs more revenues to cover all the services its citizens demand.

But labor groups argue against pension rollbacks -- often by saying that they shouldn't bear the burden of saving governments money when it was the private sector that triggered the economic mess.

Voters are wary of puting more money into government -- particularly because they fear additional moneys will be spent not on services but on unsustainable benefits for public employees.

So there is wisdom in pursuing both policies at the same time, as Brown appears to be doing. But why not go further?

Why not link the two -- formally and legally?

It can be done.

In the past, ballot measures have had provisions that tie them to the defeat or success of other measures.

In this case, pension reform measures on next year's ballot would be legally linked with tax increases, through language in each measure.

The link would be simple: the penson measures would not take effect if the tax measures didn't pass. And the tax measures wouldn't take effect if the pension measures didn't pass.

Taxpayers and public workers would both have to sacrifice.

Yes, formalizing such links might raise the political challenge of passing the measures.

But the links, if the measures are well designed, might make a sale easier -- by easing concerns that new tax dollars would be wasted or that public workers are bearing too much of the budget-related pain.

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