Pushing public workers into 401(k)s would just mean more citizens would face the likelihood of inadequate retirement income and future dependence on the social safety net.
Private sector firms began moving en masse to 401(k)s in the 1980s; the percentage of firms offering these plans as their sole retirement benefit tripled during that decade. Nowadays, for those workers who are lucky enough to receive retirement benefits at work, 70 percent have only a 401(k). This change had the effect of torpedoing retirement security for employees, whose retirement savings are generally only a fraction of what they need for a comfortable retirement.
So converting the state pension system to 401(k)-style plans would eviscerate retirement security for some of the few remaining workers who have any. Pension plans, in which contributions are pooled and invested in relatively safe, slow-growing funds, come with the state guarantee that a retired worker will maintain a certain income. And with the notable exception of the recent stock market decline, the state has been able to provide that guarantee without asking for extra contributions from municipalities.