Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Public Sector Pensions

I could not have said it better or with more authority.

Public-sector employees earn their pensions
Miami Herald, 9/15/2009

The Aug. 31 editorial How to fix pension mess was a collection of hyperbole and insinuations about government pensions.
Only about 10 percent of public-sector employees can retire before age 50 -- typically public-safety employees -- and most of them hardly retire ''long before'' that age. Even public-safety employees must serve 20-25 years before retirement.

The editorial implied that public pensioners receive almost their full working salary. However, most top out at about 80 percent of their salary and then only after 25-30 years on the job. Many don't receive that much, and since public-sector salaries still lag those in the private sector for the same jobs, the idea that 80 percent of a public salary is overly generous is a stretch. In fact, the average public pension in Florida is $1,354 a month, which is hardly lavish.

The editorial also stated that ''cost-of-living adjustments go far beyond the national average,'' when in fact 50 percent of Florida's plans do not have COLAs. What does ''far beyond the national average'' actually mean?

Overtime pay included in salary calculations for pension benefits was represented as an excessive perk. Public-sector workers labor in notoriously understaffed departments that require them to exceed the productivity expectations of their private-sector counterparts and oblige them to spend too much time away from their families to serve the public, a daily condition of work for which they deserve to be paid.

The statement that ''most businesses were turning to 401(k) plans, in the 1980s and 1990s'' is a misrepresentation. Defined-benefit plans still are prevalent among Fortune 1000 companies. Small employers, or those who have gone bankrupt, have steadily moved in the direction of defined-contribution plans.

Cities certainly face challenges in meeting pension funding obligations during a down market. Reduced revenues caused by the housing slump hurt. However, during strong stock-market years, many cities made no contribution to their employees' pension plan. In fact, approximately 80 percent of public-pension payouts nationally come from earnings on investments and employee contributions, not taxpayer dollars.

If there are problems with public pension plans, then let's fix them. If there are abuses, let's stop them. We oppose enhancing pension benefits without added funding. To fix the problems, we should engage in honest discussions with real facts and figures. Hyperbole won't solve any problems.

chief executive officer, Florida Public Pension Trustees Association, Tallahassee

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