Illinois public pensions: Raising awareness with the truth is better

Let’s continue with R. Eden Martin’s two-in-one-day op eds. First, the Trib’s: “Pensions: All our problem.” As I said yesterday, it’s absolutely NOT all our problem. Here’s how he opens the piece:

Leaders of the state teachers unions ask, “How much longer will the Chicago Tribune allow itself to be used as a tool of terror’ by reform advocates in their ‘quest to deprive hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans of the reasonable retirement they, in large part, have paid for?”

This union attack is aimed at an Aug. 10 commentary by Dennis Byrne, which summarized a legal analysis that shows pension benefits are owed by the pension funds — not the state of Illinois – and that the state is not a “guarantor” of those pension fund obligations.

The Civic Committee and other business and civic groups are not trying to deprive teachers of their pensions. We’re trying to reform the system, get adequate funding and save the pension system from bankruptcy.

A few things. First, as stated yesterday, most of the pension deficit, as Bill Zettler has detailed, is the result of the fact that hundreds of thousands of Illinois public employees have not “in large part” paid what was necessary. That’s the point.

Second, as Bill Zettler has chronicled — the ramping up of pay and the miscalculation of the return on pension fund investments is the responsibility of those very same state tax dollar paid employees.

Third, once honesty comes into play, and reality is fully recognized, it becomes apparent that there is no way to rescue this ship. It needs to be scuttled. And then the taxpayers of the state need to have their voices heard about whether their state government should even be in the pension business. I vote no. Millions of my fellow citizens will agree once they understand the unethical theft that has taken place through brut political force.

R. Eden Martin also writes this:

We advocate two things that would help save the pension system: (1) reform, which would preserve rights that retirees and workers have already earned, while reducing costs prospectively, and (2) improved funding of the pension system by the state and city. Both are critical.

Rights? Oh, please. They are entitled to their share of the money they’ve contributed, yes. However, if more public employees were acting as adults in this matter, they would already be calling for the immediate cessation of payouts to current retirees that are above what the actuarial tables would allow.

Anyone still contributing to the pension fund is having money stolen from them now because current retirees are getting more in benefits than future retirees will ever see.

This country won’t survive if the taxeaters continue to believe they have a “right” to my tax dollars.

Mr. Martin uses the word “critical.” Sorry, but that’s baloney. It’s not critical for the state to be in the pension business. Grown-up Americans need to learn what the “up” is in grown-up and start tending to their own retirements individually and privately – government employees especially.

Mr. Martin is dead on right with this:

But the terms of state employee retirement, relatively more generous than in the private sector, are also to blame.

State workers can retire at age 55 with enough years of service. They can receive a full pension, plus automatic 3 percent adjustments each year, plus retiree health care for which the state in effect pays 100 percent of the insurance premium. In Chicago, workers can retire at age 50.

How many struggling hard working Illinois taxpayers know this?:

State workers also receive Social Security — although teachers do not. They also receive free health care – with zero contributions toward their premiums — during the years from 55 until 65 when they become eligible for Medicare. Teachers, by contrast, do contribute to their health care costs. So should retired state workers.

Just an important note: not all employees of the public schools contribute to their health care costs. There are thousands of contracts (when you factor in those for administrators) and they all vary.

I appreciate Mr. Martin’s Civic Committee bringing attention to this pension issue, but the best way to raise awareness is with the unvarnished — not sugar-coated — truth.

Up next: Mr. Martin’s Wall Street Journal op ed.