In a heartwarming Valentine's Day blog, Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, talks about an old cartoon that ran in the 1980s showing Democrats trying to develop a centrist economic policy that cut spending on social programs. "How is this different from Republicans?" one Democrat asks. The answer: "We care about the victims of our policies."
That, Krugman says, "is pretty much my reaction to the Obama budget." The president talks about how awful the cuts will be, how programs he cares about will have to go, how painful this all is for him. Not that he's going to miss any meals or wind up homeless, but whatever: we can all feel his pain.
It's also pretty much my reaction to The Bay Citizen report that ran in The New York Times Feb. 13 on the pension reform negotiations going on at City Hall and in the office of billionaire financier Warren Hellman.
Hellman, Mayor Ed Lee, Sup. Sean Elsbernd, and some labor leaders are talking about how to avoid another bruising ballot measure fight this fall. Hellman backed off from supporting Public Defender Jeff Adachi's Proposition B last year after some labor folks convinced him they could come up with a better plan.
Hellman's new bottom line: the group needs to find between $300 million and $400 million in savings. He is quoted as saying: "I hate that it comes out of the hide" of city workers. "It is going to be really painful."
Warren Hellman's not a bad guy. I've met him, he's polite and friendly, sometimes even almost sort of a liberal on some issues, and I think he does feel bad about cutting the pensions of low-level city employees. I even agree with him that the pension system needs reform.
But here's the problem: nothing ever comes out of the hides of the rich.
Over the past five years, San Francisco has cut hundreds of millions in city spending. City employees have given back many millions more in concessions. Nonprofits have cut back services to the poor, the disabled, the sick.
But we haven't asked big business and wealthy people to give up anything. Hellman hasn't had to tighten his belt. Corporate executives in the city still make huge salaries. They're not closing the swimming pool at the Olympic Club.
I could support pension reform — if Hellman, Elsbernd, and Lee would support tax reform. Then we can all feel each other's pain. For once.