Glenn Hamer

In this week’s edition of the Chamber notebook, I take a look at how public pensions are faring in voters’ minds; job growth in the private sector vs. the public sector; and the state of U.S. teen employment.

Voter tension over pensions

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s research foundation two years ago sounded the alarm over the toll public sector pensions were taking on the state budget. Arizona is not alone in its attempts to rein in these pensions, as evidenced by recent voter decisions in San Jose and San Diego.

In San Jose, nearly 70 percent of voters recently chose to require current city workers to either scale back their pension benefits or pay more into the system. In San Diego, residents have seen that city’s payments to its pension system rise to equal nearly 20 percent of the city’s operating budget. Voters there chose to require new employees to enter into a 401(k) style system rather than a traditional defined benefit system.

The desire to preserve the core government functions that are being crowded out by the increasingly large piece of the budget pie being taken up by pensions is not a partisan issue. While Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker has gotten the bulk of the ink over public sector pension reform (and rightly so considering the recent recall battle he won), Democrats like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Rhode Island State Treasurer Gina Raimondo have all called for major pension reforms.

Raimondo’s reform package passed through the Rhode Island Legislature with 77 of 94 Democrats voting in favor for it. She also happens to have the highest public approval rating of any Rhode Island statewide official, proving that making tough decisions on pension reform doesn’t always have to come with voter blowback.

Arizona in 2011 instituted major public pension reforms, though lawmakers and the governor should remain vigilant to ensure that pensions do not take up an outsized portion of the state budget.

As Chicago Mayor Emanuel said in testimony before the Illinois Legislature’s House Personnel and Pension Committee last month, “Our taxpayers can’t afford to choose between pensions and police officers, pensions or paved streets or pensions and public health. Without pension reform, we’ll be forced to mortgage our children’s future to pay for our past.”

President’s call for public sector jobs affects private sector

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of President Obama’s recent press conference where he declared that the “private sector is doing fine,” is his apparent failure to appreciate that there is a direct effect on the private sector that would result from his desire to see a boost in public sector hiring.

A recent Arizona Republic editorial nailed it when the authors wrote that, “…the wealth required to maintain a socially acceptable level of public services is generated through taxes imposed on private industry.”

Minimum wage figures into rotten teen employment rate

If your teenager is spending more time on the couch this summer than in earning a few bucks at a part time job, you’re not alone. A recent Associated Press headline reads, “Summer jobs wane for U.S. teens.”

An analysis just released by the Employment Policies Institute finds that the teen unemployment rate is averaging above 25 percent in 18 states and the District of Columbia.

The overall economy plays a big role in this, obviously, with older workers taking up the jobs requiring fewer skills that would usually be filled by teens.

But your teenager can also lay blame on minimum wage laws. Arizona’s minimum wage law, which calls for annual automatic pay raises based on an increase in the cost of living, is bad news for employers and job seekers. Not surprisingly, Arizona trails only the District of Columbia in areas of the country with the highest numbers of teens unable to find work. The automatic pay raise in Arizona’s law is a piece of public policy that deserves serious reconsideration.

On a national level, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. have introduced legislation to raise the federal minimum wage rate to just under $10 per hour.

They should call their bill the Teen Unemployment Promotion Act.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry