Tuesday, January 05, 2010

At least the Beacon Journal gets it -- thank you, BJ!

From John Curry, January 5, 2010
Subject: The Beacon Journal is a whole lot kinder to educators, police and fire than the Columbus Dispatch has been! Thank you, Beacon Journal!
"One temptation may be to follow the path of private pensions........."
"Such an approach would save money in the public sector. It also would be unwise."
Note from John....let's watch for kind words for educators, fire and policemen and their retirement sytems coming from a Columbus Dispatch editorial like you see coming from a Beacon Journal editorial below. Please don't hold your breath in waiting as I predict it will never appear!
Pension protection

Ohio lawmakers must act quickly to ensure that modest steps will be enough to bolster the state's retirement systems

The state's largest newspapers devoted their front pages on Sunday to the challenges facing public pension plans in Ohio. They did so because of the substantial amount of public money in play, local governments tapped for $4.1 billion in pension costs last year, and now looking at the prospect of having to reach deeper to cover pension shortfalls totaling $400 million by 2020. Pensions have become one of many competing priorities in a recession-battered era of scarce resources, cities and schools, among others, slashing budgets to make ends meet.

Thus, the theme emerged in the reporting: Local officials wonder how they can afford to bolster pension funds. Soon, state lawmakers will have the task of devising the rescue plan. None of the five largest public pension plans faces an immediate crisis. Rather, each must act to ensure that it meets the requirement of having enough money to cover obligations for 30 years. As it is, the State Teachers Retirement System and the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund fall short of complying with the standard.

One temptation may be to follow the path of private pensions. As the reporting revealing, in the 1970s, 71 percent of private pensions were defined-benefit plans. Today, the share is 24 percent, companies moving employees into 401(k)s or defined contribution programs. Such an approach would save money in the public sector. It also would be unwise.

Defined benefit plans are efficient and effective, if properly managed. It is true that the pay of public employees now matches roughly the private sector. But that isn't the whole story. Teachers remain underpaid, in view of their responsibility and contribution. A strong pension serves as a necessary component in bringing promising men and women into the classroom. Firefighters and police officers take uncommon risks on the job, guaranteed pensions serving as appropriate compensation.

Remember, too, that public workers in Ohio do not pay into the Social Security system, and thus do not receive the program's benefits.

All of this isn't an argument for doing nothing. The state must move to ensure the financial stability of the funds. It might begin by addressing what annoys many Ohioans, the practice of ''double-dipping,'' retiring from a public job and then returning to the position, collecting a pension check and a pay check. In addition, sound health-care reform could make a considerable difference, health costs becoming an increasing burden for pension plans.

And here resides further reason for shrinking the size of overgrown local government.

Most telling, modest steps taken now can reap big rewards in the long run — without harming current or soon-to-be retirees. The eligibility requirements involving age and years of service could be adjusted gradually. Similar changes could be made to the benefit formula, say, basing the ''final average salary'' on additional years. Done smartly, Ohio can meet the needs of financially pressed communities and those who have devoted their working lives to public service. Act now, and any pain will be minimized.

Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
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