A dose of reality

Many progressives believe that efforts to control public-sector pay and benefits derive from a nefarious right-wing plot to destroy the middle class and cripple organized labor.

In fact, as recent developments in California indicate, the movement to treat government workers more like the private-sector taxpayers who pay their salaries has been born out of a cold, hard assessment of reality.

On Thursday, California Gov. Jerry Brown unleashed a 12-point plan to reform the state's pension system. The changes include an increase in the minimum retirement age from 55 to 67; benefit reductions for new hires; higher pension contributions for employees; and the partial transformation from a defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan.

Officials with California's government unions immediately assailed the proposal, which is actually quite modest in scope given the state has one of the most "overburdened" pension systems in the nation, one expert told the Los Angeles Tiimes. To that end, the plan -- which Gov. Brown says will save between $4 billion to $11 billion over 30 years -- does "essentially nothing in the short term," the analyst said, with only a "marginal impact" in the long run.

Nevertheless, when an unabashedly liberal governor of a place such as California finds it essential to risk political capital on this issue, you know times are changing.

"I try to protect working people all I can," the governor said, "but I'm also responsible to the taxpayer and making sure we have a solvent state government."

Does Jerry Brown -- the father of collective bargaining for government workers -- harbor some secret desire to cripple California's labor unions? Hardly. He's simply seen the numbers and recognizes that his state cannot continue down its current fiscal path without disastrous consequences.

In other words, he's been mugged by reality.