It's time to take on the unions

Closing libraries, raising fees, bleeding the fund for capital improvements dry — those are just some of the money-saving proposals that have come up at City Hall during the weeks of preliminary budget talks.

In the coming days, the City Council will get out its budget scissors and start snipping away, cringing in pain while holding up an ongoing hiring freeze for most vacant city positions as a shared sacrifice.

But it’s hard to buy into that, absent a major public political push to address the real budget issue: public pensions and salaries. In Los Angeles, elected officials have been in a back-and-forth with employee unions there for months as they haggle over pay concessions to reduce a debilitating budget deficit. That conversation has kept the issue in the public arena to become a self-feeding pressure cooker to achieve meaningful results.

In Glendale, though, it’s been endless hours of the same tired budget-cutting tactics: raise fees, cut public services, rile constituencies to justify spending and buy your time until days before the start of the fiscal year when the council, backed into a corner, approves a Frankenstein budget.

At some point, our elected officials will need to get the gumption to start the type of public battle with the employee unions that will create an environment in which major concessions can be the only outcome.

Glendale can expect to pay more than $135 million into the California Public Employee Retirements System through 2014. And the city’s actuary has warned that Glendale’s pension obligations could remain at current levels or higher through 2017, even if the state system improves investment returns.

Addressing the cost of public employment beyond pledges and lip service is the budget answer, not dog licensing fees or fiddling with library hours.

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