Mona Charen

"We have the highest-paid police officers in the country, and they can retire after 25 years at 65 percent of their highest salary. We have the nation's highest-paid firefighters, too. Salaries for our teachers are always at the top of the nation, or close to it. And most pay nothing for red-carpet health benefits for life.

"This year, in the middle of a punishing recession -- when more than 10 percent of New Jerseyans are out of work, when others are having their pay and hours cut, when many are losing homes to foreclosure -- teachers' average base salaries rose by nearly 5 percent, double the rate of inflation."

Unlike most private sector employees, New Jersey police officers can cash in on unused sick days. A retiring New Brunswick officer received $376,234 for unused sick days, on top of his annual $115,000 pension. It's a common pattern. New Jersey has run itself into a ditch, led by liberal Democratic office holders and their public union backers/beneficiaries.

New Jersey is one of the worst offenders (along with California, Florida, Michigan, and a few more), but nearly all states are facing a shortfall. The Pew Center on the States found a $1 trillion gap at the end of fiscal year 2008 between the $2.35 trillion states had set aside to pay for employees' retirement benefits and the $3.35 trillion price tag of those promises. "While the economic crisis and drop in investments helped create it," explained Susan Urahn, the study's director, "the trillion dollar gap is primarily the result of states' inability to save for the future and manage the costs of their public sector retirement benefits."

At the federal level, the government has undertaken promises in the form of Social Security and Medicare that amount to $107 trillion in 2009 dollars. And while the future obligations under Medicare get plenty of ink, the costs of the Medicaid program (which, due to elastic eligibility standards, winds up providing nursing home care for many middle-class elderly people in addition to the poor) may eventually dwarf its sister programs.

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office projected that if President Obama's budget is adopted (without the health care bill), the national debt will grow by $9.7 trillion over the next decade. And what we need, at this critical juncture, the Obama administration insists, is a huge new entitlement.

Beware of Democrats bearing Greek-like gifts.


Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
 
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