It’s easy to blast pensions, unless you realize where they came from. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the economy was booming. In good economic times, people leave public employment to seek employment in the private sector, which has better pay. That is exactly what happened. The public sector was being bled of talented employees, who were leaving government employ for the greener pastures of the private sector.
For example, as a firefighter paramedic, I could have gone to a bridge program, transitioned from paramedic to nurse, and gotten a 40-50% increase in my pay while working fewer hours (Firefighter medics work a 56 hour week, nurses a 36 hour week). I stayed for the pension.
The powers that be were busy wasting the newfound largess of tax receipts from the booming economy on governmental baubles that were designed to win votes, and therefore could not afford to raise employee pay enough to stop the bleeding of talent. So instead, they instituted a pay later approach- they started a pension system. The promise of a good retirement kept many workers in government employ. The government had the best of both worlds- buy good employees now, pay for them later.
Now here we are, 20-30 years later, and the bill is due. Now instead of paying the bill, the government cries poor and refuses to pay the employees who stayed the benefits they were promised. The government is perfectly capable of paying, but like a consumer who had a big party on their VISA card, they would rather keep spending it on wasteful projects than repay the debt that they incurred.
Don’t blame the public employees. They worked as asked, fulfilling their end of the bargain. Now that they expect the government to hold up their end and pay what they owe, the government decides that they don’t want to pay, because they have other things they would rather spend the money on.