The Zettler Number: A source of talking points for Republicans

It should go without saying that Republican state legislative leaders should be on the alert for programs and policies that smack of European-style socialism. Unfortunately it needs to be said, since as far as we can tell, not one Republican state legislator has ever compared the Illinois taxpayer-funded pension system to European socialism.

Anyone who objects to the comparison might want to look into the benefits bestowed on government employees on the other side of the pond, where individuals are often required to work until they are 60 years old before living the rest of their natural life on the dole.

By the way, I’m always happy to stand corrected about Republicans who might have said something concerning the scandal that is the Illinois pension system. Private condemnations are worthless. Leadership means going public. In fact we’re happy to publish and help disseminate whatever they write on it.

Bill Zettler’s research and writing on the topic has been the best in the state, and most of what he’s penned has been posted here.

In his last article, Bill pointed out that in every Illinois county “public institutions are among the top 3 employers and in six counties they are the 3 largest employers.”

“You can see why the average Illinois taxpayer is fighting an uphill battle to influence politicians regarding this matter. We hear much about ‘Corporate Special Interests’ but almost nothing about ‘Public Union Special Interests.’

Looking at these numbers, even in the best-case scenario, we can see that the bill about to be handed to us cannot be paid. Even in Illinois, citizens cannot be saddled with these kinds of taxes. The only question is when politicians will face up to the issue.”

What follows from Bill Zettler’s piece is what we should’ve been hearing from our Republican elected officials for the past decade. In the spirit of the words on our website masthead “setting the standard,” Zettler has written the script for GOP candidates going forward. It’s hard hitting, straight forward, and it prescribes the solution:

“The longer political leaders wait the more people and businesses will leave the state for lower tax states – or not move here to begin with. Illinois will become another Michigan with high unemployment, decreasing tax base and those who can afford to move out of state doing so. The only people left will be the very poor, the very rich and the public employees, working and retired. The problem the public employees will face is a shrinking tax base pie that cannot pay them. You cannot get a piece of the pie larger than the pie itself.

So what is the solution to this problem? Put all public employees on Social Security and 401K plan just like most taxpayers are on.”

Bill asks how the current system can be justified. Of course we agree with his answer:

“Obviously there is no justification only the political inertia caused by undue influence of the public sector special interests. Only concerted effort by private sector interests, including taxpaying employees of the private sector, can overcome the pending financial catastrophe – a trillion dollars for other people’s retirement.”

Here is a short, excellent article Zettler wrote last year:

“The Need to “Recalibrate” Pensions.”

Allen Greenspan has said we need to “recalibrate” our government guaranteed pension plans. I could not agree more.

However whereas Mr. Greenspan is talking about Social Security I am talking about the multi-trillion dollar public employee pension plans funded by taxpayers just like Social Security.

The reason we need to look at the public employee plans is because they, #1: provide more than Social Security, and #2: benefits start at an earlier age.

As an example, I recently requested and received two documents from government (taxpayer funded) pension institutions. The first one was from the Social Security Administration, which said I can expect a pension of $14,448 at age 62.

The other document, via a Freedom of Information Request, was from the Illinois Teachers Retirement System, which said there was a pensioner in their system that had a guaranteed-by-the-taxpayer pension of $15,514.

So you ask what is the big deal? Well my $14,448 was for an entire year at age 62, his $15,514 was for one month at age 57.

Which brings to mind two questions: how in the world are private sector retirees living on Social Security and perhaps a 401K plan going to be able to pay the taxes required to fund this man’s five million dollar retirement. And secondly, why should we have to?

My daughter, who works at Dominick’s bagging groceries, made $7000 last year and paid $100 in income tax and about $300 in sales tax both of which go directly to support these humongous public pension funds. What is the moral argument for this reverse Robin Hood – rob the poor and give it to the rich?

Meanwhile, here in Illinois, the Teacher Retirement System, State University Retirement System, and State Employee Retirement System has a combined deficit of $43 billion.

Since we private sector workers have to pay for their pensions I suggest we establish a law whereby they pay for ours. I would call it the “Fairness in Pension Funding Law” and it would work like this: every public employee whose government guaranteed pension is more than twice the maximum Social Security pension would pay Social Security taxes on their pension.

This would offset somewhat, but not completely, our contributions to their pension. In addition, if retirement age for Social Security is moved up, public pensions should do the same. If Social Security cost-of-living goes up by 1% so do public pensions. If Social Security contributions go up so do the contributions from public retirees.

What’s good for the taxpayer-goose should be good for the public-employee gander.

The way we see it, Bill Zettler continues to provide valuable talking points for Republican candidates and office holders. If they have the courage to use them, we’ll start seeing more Republicans win office.

©2008 John Francis Biver