Mt. Vernon Register-News

February 15, 2013

Private and public pensions - no comparison



I have a very good friend that I worked with for 30 years. He is bright, articulate and most of all totally honest. This guy had a very important job at General Tire at the director level.

We lost touch like a lot of retirees do when locating to different parts of the country. I recently received an email from him and in a couple of paragraphs he succinctly put the problem I have been writing about for a couple of years into language and perspective that anyone can understand.

His situation, although no fault of his own, is the epitome of what is at the heart of our countries financial problems and is pushing Illinois toward bankruptcy.

I hope you read this very carefully and think about the difference that has caused a huge chasm between public and private retirement ages and pensions. Did you ever ponder or even think about the difference between just paying? I am talking about taxpayers paying for 15 years of retirement for someone retiring at 65 years old, someone who worked for a private company that receives a pension from defined contributions and paid — along with their company — into the Social Security system.

The 65-year-old will get increases based on the CPI on Social Security. This applies to less than half of his retirement in a lot of instances. Compare this with 25 years of retirement for the public employee retiring at 55 years with a guaranteed 3 percent increase each year in retirement. The difference will amaze you. My friend and colleague has done a good job explaining this problem with his personal example. He does not mention the windfall from unused sick days at retirement because the only thing received in his case would have been vacation not taken and certainly no juicing — increasing of salary by 10 to 20 percent in the last year for the purpose of increasing retirement pay.

Rip, political corruption and health care/public pensions should provide you with unlimited journalistic fodder. Let me relate one example: I retired from General Tire in 1996 with over 30 years of service and, as you know, was well compensated. I also taught eight years part-time at Akron University plus one year on Green City Council and eight years as mayor. This totaled for pension purposes nearly 16 years.

"This entitled me to a public pension plus health care benefits for me and Judy. This pension increases by 3 percent each year AND they reimburse me for my payment to Medicare, over $100 per month. My pension from PERS (acronym for Public Employee Retirement System) exceeds my GTR pension by nearly $300 per month!

"This just ain't right. And the public pension will continue to increase for the rest of my life. In 10 more years, the public pension will exceed the GTR pension by 50 percent! Truly unbelievable!   Dan”

I work out with a union leader that represents faculty and employees at a large university. You would probably be amazed to find that we agree on a lot of things in the area of treating people with dignity and health care being provided for all our citizens. I admire the guy for raising five kids and sacrificing to see that they are all well educated in professions with a future. I suspect a lot of credit goes to Mom also. I jokingly tell him that he is a good father because he married over his head. We discuss issues from time to time.

I broached the issue of my colleague’s email with him and he rightfully reminded me that most of the items were copied from the public sector. I explained to him that he was probably right, but the items that almost put General Motors and other companies out of business caused change because the customers were not willing to pay for them and their unions lost over 300,000 jobs as they fled to China and elsewhere.

I cannot ever remember company pension increases for retirees like the 3 percent annually compounded received in the public sector occurring in my industry. A lot of companies have frozen pensions and converted defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans. They have also frozen company contributions to Medical care.

We both agree that there is little danger of public sector jobs going to China, but change is coming because the customer in this case (taxpayer) cannot afford the continuous cost increases just like the customer could not afford the cost of General Motors to make cars and General Motors to be profitable enough to stay in business. They had to change.

Below is a short blurb telling us how to solve the pension crisis from another colleague. We may not agree totally with him, but the comments are just his thoughts in an attempt to correct what my friend has termed “truly unbelievable."

BTW – compare Social Security and Medicare benefits of those in the private sector to the Federal, State, Municipal and newer retirees in education (the classic stunt of adding benefit eligible compensation in the last couple years or so of service to increase the lifetime income and free health care through retirement).

These groups with the politicians (and unlimited union support) have 'gamed the system' and we are the 'patsies' who are on the hook for egregious lifetime benefits for those self dealing Public Servants.  

"We should demand that retirement eligible dates are equal with social security dates, cost of living increases equal with social security cost of living increases and overnight the pension crisis would end and let them know the current maximum social security payment in 2012 was approximately $2750.00 per month regardless of the amount contributed ….

"What is the mayor of Chicago’s greatest line…'never let a crisis be wasted!!!' The current 'politico’s' do not want to fix their 'entitlement system' as they may lose their supporters!!! It has become rhetorical to them!"

Let’s wrap this up with a recent report that states government sector jobs in 11 U.S. states outnumber those with private sector jobs in 11 U.S. States. I am sure that you must realize that Illinois has the worst reported pension problem of any of the 11 states listed.

America is rapidly becoming a nation of takers. An increasing number of Americans expect the government to take care of them from the cradle to the grave, and they expect the government to dig into the pockets of others in order to pay for it all. This philosophy can be very seductive, but what happens when the number of takers eventually outnumbers the number of producers?

In 11 different U.S. states, the number of government dependents exceeds the number of private sector workers. This list of states includes some of the biggest states in the country: California, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Maine, Kentucky, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, New Mexico and Hawaii.

In California, there are 139 "takers" for every 100 private sector workers. That is crazy! The American people have become absolutely addicted to government money, and it gets worse with each passing year. It would be one thing if we could afford all of this spending, but unfortunately, we simply cannot. We are drowning in debt, and we are stealing more than a hundred million more dollars from future generations with each passing hour. No bank robber in history can match that kind of theft.

Our state of Illinois has two choices: Gigantic increases in taxes or draconian reform efforts in the public pension system. Current politicians will never fix the problem. They have to continue buying votes of the moneyed special interest groups to stay in office.