Solving city pension crisis short of rioting?

Would City Hall pension woes some day have people taking to the streets like these truck drivers who marched to the Greek parliament during recent protests over a planned end to job-protection policies?

Calling Philadelphia the next Greece, Philly Mag blogger Christopher Freind predicts the city's underfunded pension system some day will result in riots by retirees shorted in their monthly checks.

Just a bit over the top? Oh, yeah. It's a great way to attract attention, however.

At least, there's no faulting Freind's assessment of the high hopes for Mayor Nutter:

Nutter’s 2007 election was met with great fanfare from business leaders, city residents and even suburban folks. They naively believed Nutter would usher in a new era by cutting taxes, slashing bureaucracy and playing hardball with out-of-control union leaders.

On pensions, the challenge is to turn that political capital into something tangible like the reform that the mayor has been pushing.

There's no time to lose. As an Inquirer editorial noted recently, "In only a few years, nearly 20 cents of every $1 Philadelphia raises in tax revenue will go toward annual payments to keep pension benefits flowing." That revelation came from economists at Northwestern University and the University of Rochester, who depicted pension systems here and in several other major cities as deeply troubled.

Nutter is making more progress than any previous mayor on this issue, having already won cops and firefighters the option of going into a lower-cost 401(k)-style pension plan that could save taxpayers over the long run. Similar terms still need to be negotiated in labor agreements with the city's nonuniformed workers, as well as other steps to shore up the pension fund.

But dire predictions about city pensions not being paid aren't based in reality, since the city each year makes a sizable contribution from its general fund to keep retirees' checks current. The real danger for the city is that these payments will grow so large that they'll sap resources to provide other key city services. That's not as troubling as the spectre of rampaging retirees, but it's a challenge to the city's overall quality of life that should be enough to drive pension reform.