Saturday, April 04, 2009

Congressman John Boccieri to Mark Fredrick re: GPO/WEP

From Congressman John Boccieri, April 3, 2009
Subject: A Message from Congressman Boccieri
Dear Mr. Fredrick,
Thank you for contacting me regarding H.R. 235, entitled Social Security Fairness Act of 2009. I am a co-sponsor of H.R. 235 introduced into this Congress and referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means.
As introduced, H.R. 235 would amend title II of the Social Security Act to repeal the government pension offset (GPO) and windfall elimination provisions (WEP). The GPO provision reduces Social Security benefits that a person receives as a spouse if he or she also has a federal, state or local government pension based on work that was not covered by Social Security. The WEP reduces the Social Security benefits of workers who also have pension benefits from employment not covered by Social Security.
H.R. 235 would repeal the government pension offset requirements applicable to husband's and wife's insurance benefits, widow's and widower's insurance benefits, and mother's and father's insurance benefits with respect to old-age, survivors and disability insurance payments. The measure would also repeal the windfall elimination requirements with respect to computation of an individual's primary insurance amount.
Thank you again for sharing your views with me. I will keep your views in mind should this bill come to the floor.
John Boccieri
Member of Congress

FLASHBACK.........Gee, Gary , do you still think Dennis's logic is difficult to follow?

From John Curry, April 4, 2009
What's difficult to follow is the logic behind the current OEA President's (Patricia Frost-Brooks) public statements about how the OEA is against bonuses in an economic downturn and yet the majority of her OEA endorsed STRS Board members (Myers, Meuser, Ramser) didn't support the motion to freeze bonuses at the recent STRS Board THAT'S LOGIC THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO FOLLOW! John
Sunday, June 03, 2007
FLASHBACK -- 4 years ago -- The day Gary questioned Dennis's motives!
"Meanwhile, the Ohio Education Association came to the defense of Dyer and the STRS. The teacher union’s president, Gary L. Allen, sent an e-mail message to his executive committee, district leaders, advisory council, local presidents and STRS board members questioning the motives of Dennis Leone, the Chillicothe City Schools superintendent who is largely responsible for calling attention to the STRS spending spree."
“Mr. Leone’s motives for his decision to broadcast his claims far and wide are unclear,” Allen wrote. “Much of his logic is difficult to follow.”
Allen suggested that Leone’s efforts were “destructive.”
New leadership urged for state retirement system
Canton Repository, June 13, 2003
Copley Columbus Bureau chief
CHILLICOTHE — A lawmaker who helps oversee Ohio’s five retirement systems called Thursday for the resignation of the executive director of the State Teachers Retirement System, while another said the system’s books need to be audited.
Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Jackson Township, said it is time for Herbert Dyer to go, following revelations this week that the system has spent more than $15 million on staff bonuses, artwork and travel in three years while the system’s investments plummeted by $12.3 billion during that same time.
Schuring said Dyer has lost the confidence of the STRS members and new leadership is needed. In his fifth year on the Ohio Retirement Study Council, Schuring is its former chairman.
Rep. John Boccieri, D-New Middletown and a council member, said Dyer does not understand that the money spent by the STRS board “is not the board’s money or his money.” Boccieri, whose parents are STRS members, wants an audit of the system’s books, but he said calling for Dyer’s resignation “is a bit premature.” State Auditor Betty Montgomery said in an e-mail Thursday she was concerned about “what we are being required to do in our state retirement systems” and that her office will “raise serious questions” about STRS policies.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Education Association came to the defense of Dyer and the STRS. The teacher union’s president, Gary L. Allen, sent an e-mail message to his executive committee, district leaders, advisory council, local presidents and STRS board members questioning the motives of Dennis Leone, the Chillicothe City Schools superintendent who is largely responsible for calling attention to the STRS spending spree.
“Mr. Leone’s motives for his decision to broadcast his claims far and wide are unclear,” Allen wrote. “Much of his logic is difficult to follow.”
Allen suggested that Leone’s efforts were “destructive.”
While Allen was sending his message to OEA leaders, the union’s rank and file were lining up behind the superintendent who has become a hero to many.
Leone, lawmakers and news media reported getting numerous calls and e-mail messages backing his efforts and calling for action. All 120 e-mail messages Leone received from administrators, teachers and retirees thanked him, asked how they could help or encouraged him to continue. A couple suggested a class action lawsuit.
Allen said there was no relationship between his criticism of Leone and the fact that a current STRS board member is a former OEA president.
Michael Billirakis is a past president of OEA and Dawn Leibensperger, the wife of an OEA employee, was active in his election bid. Leibensperger is an OEA president in Dublin, in central Ohio. Billirakis billed STRS $9,923 over three years for expenses, including trips to San Francisco, Boston (twice), Atlanta, Tacoma, Wash., and Anchorage, Alaska. He was one of the lowest spending board members. The top spender is Hazel Sidaway of Plain Township, who spent $54,216, which included 25 trips requiring airfare.
Allen said the past spending habits of Dyer and the board are “old news” and it is time for the system to move forward. He said, however, changes should be made in how bonuses are awarded to employees. Schuring said he has heard repeatedly from constituents who have been in touch with Dyer.
“I am appalled with the kind of response my constituents have gotten from him,” he said. “He is a brash, arrogant and condescending man.
“We need a new leader who takes these matters seriously and not be part of any plan to spend money unwisely.”
Sen. Lynn R. Wachtmann, R-Napoleon and chairman of the council, wrote to a constituent in February that STRS did not move fast enough to prevent cuts in the health-care benefits of retirees. Wachtmann said earlier this week that he wants more hearings on the STRS spending and its health-care program.
Sen. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana but not on the study council, also writing to a constituent, said on May 28 that “Mr. Leone raises a number of valid issues pointing (to) mismanagement and inefficient use of funds by STRS.”
Leone said his motive is clear: “To get the board to change its spending practices and respond to its members.”
“This year there was a long and ugly teacher strike in the Eastern Local School District south of Chillicothe that the OEA rightfully supported,” Leone said. “What would have the reaction been from OEA and teachers if they found out the Eastern school board was spending like the STRS board? There would have been outrage if the board was flying to Hawaii, giving principals bonuses and purchasing polished stones for the superintendent’s office.”

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Dennis Leone: Answers for Linda Meinelt and a closer look at the bonuses

From: Dennis Leone, April 4, 2009
Subject: RE: Questions for you
Yes, it actually happened, somewhat, at the last board meeting, on Friday, March 20. Here is how it played out: Even though I originally pushed for the bonus suspension vote in January – which also includes a provision restricting bonus potential in future “down” years – I told the board I felt the adopted plan was flawed because it did not contain a minimum threshold that our assets needed to return to BEFORE bonuses could be awarded in the future. In other words, as approved in January, if we end the current fiscal year with $50 billion in assets, the STRS investment staff would qualify for huge bonuses in fiscal year 2010 if our assets climbed back to just $51 billion. (Never mind that we would be nowhere close to the $70 billion in assets that we had at the beginning of the current fiscal year). I was alone in this thinking for several months.
Then Craig Brooks stepped up with a motion at the 3-20-09 board meeting, which I seconded, that would require our assets to return to at least $65 billion for staff to qualify for their full bonuses. The motion stated further that for every $1 billion in assets we have under the $65 billion threshold, staff members will receive a 3% cut in their potential bonuses. This means that if our assets stay at $50 billion in FY 2010, staff would receive a 45% cut in their bonuses. While this plan is not exactly what I had in mind, it is much better nonetheless. Voting yes for the motion were Brooks, Leone, Burch, Hayden and Puckett. Voting no were Ramser, Meuser, Myers, Cervantes and Chapman. It failed 5-5. I left the meeting at that point in disgust. Mike Nehf, before the 5-5 vote, told the board that the staff could live with the plan, and urged approval. The board said no with its 5-5 vote. A break was called and I left for the parking lot. During the break, private conversations apparently occurred between Mike Nehf and certain board members which resulted in the no voters having a change of heart. I received two cell phone calls as I was getting in my car, urging me to return for a “reconsideration” vote. I returned. The new vote was 9-0-1, with Ramser abstaining. (Ramser’s abstention, in my opinion, is chicken-hearted – as it was when she abstained on the original bonus suspension vote in January.) Those who changed their no vote to yes on 3-20-09 said that while they still basically opposed the motion, they would approve it because Mike Nehf said he could live with it. A final vote on this matter will occur at the next board meeting.
The change described above is as far as this board will go, in my opinion. A stronger plan, which I still believe is needed, would require legislative approval. The board majority accepts the “value added” notion that our investment staff members deserve bonus checks even if their accounts lose money – as long they beat the so-called Wall Street “market.” STRS investment chief Steve Mitchell illustrated this point of view this last month when he said the board should be pleased that while our returns for fiscal year 2009 are -32.2%, the average market returns are -32.3%. In other words, since we are “beating the market,” they deserve bonus checks. It is plainly ridiculous and out-of-touch with reality. I argue that bonuses should not occur unless the absolute return increases at STRS. If staff members individually beat the market (while we lose money overall), then they are earning their wonderful base salary of over $150,000 and their spectacular benefits. They just should not be getting a huge bonus on top of that. No one is suggesting, heaven forbid, that the $150,000 average base salaries of investment staff members be reduced. They get that no matter how poorly they do. This argument surrounds the question of BONUS checks on top of their base salaries.
Regarding the latest on our stock market returns, here is what I have been told: As of March 31, our total assets stood at $47.8 billion, which is a 3.6% increase over last month. For the first 9 months of the current fiscal year, our returns are -29.7%. Our assets stood at $70.1 billion at the beginning of the current fiscal year. We peaked at $80.1 billion on October 31, 2007 – which is 17 months ago. Mike Nehf and Steve Mitchell have said they believe our assets will be back up to $50 billion by June 30.
Dennis Leone
From Linda Meinelt, April 3, 2009
Subject: Questions for you
Do you intend to introduce any type of further adjustments to the bonus program, considering what is happening in other states?
Also, have you received the latest investment balance for the end of March? I wrote Steve and asked him for it; however, he said that he did not feel he should reveal the figure to me until the Bd. members knew it. He said I should email him again midweek. Figured if you knew, it would save him getting another email from me.
Linda Meinelt

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, April 03, 2009

Tiberi, Jordan would prevent some Ohio retirees from paying enexpected taxes

From Adam Francis, April 3, 2009
APRIL 3, 2009..................................(202) 225-5355
Error In “Making Work Pay Tax Credit” Will Cause Unexpected Taxes For Pension Recipients
U.S. Congressman Pat Tiberi (R-OH) today joined U.S. Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH) in sending a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY), with copies sent to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman and Ways and Means Ranking Member Dave Camp (R-MI), regarding an unintended consequence of the implementation of the new “Making Work Pay” tax credit.
This consequence came to light after IRS officials released to employers the new withholding tables to implement the credit. Withholding tables indicate the amount of payroll tax that should be withheld from an employee’s paycheck. The IRS also instructed that the new tables be used for withholding tax on pensions. Under the law however, the “Making Work Pay” tax credit does not apply to pension payments.
“This is another unintended consequence of Democrats pushing through the Stimulus so fast. No one had a chance to read it and fully understand what was in the bill,” said Congressman Tiberi. “If we don’t fix this now, millions of retirees that receive pensions will get a larger than expected bill come tax time next year and that’s just not right! Pension recipients will receive the credit, even though they are not supposed to and then come April 15th the tax man will demand they pay it back. We’ve got to fix this, that’s why Congressman Jim Jordan and I are sending a letter to Secretary Geithner, and Chairman Rangel asking them to rectify the situation as soon as possible.”
The National Education Association, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and other pension systems also wish to see a quick resolution to this problem.
The “Making Work Pay” tax credit was included in the 2009 Stimulus bill that was signed into law earlier this year. The text of the bill numbered more than 1,000 pages and was only made available to members for few hours before the final vote was called.
[Text of letters posted immediately below]

Jordan, Tiberi letter to House Chairman Charles Rangel

Congress of the United States
Washington, DC 20515
April 3,2009
Chairman Charles Rangel
Committee on Ways & Means
U.S. House of Representatives
1102 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Chairman Rangel,
We write today requesting clarification and corrective action on recent changes to IRS tax withholding tables that will adversely impact public and private retirees in Ohio and beyond.
The IRS recently issued new withholding tables in accordance with the American Recovery and Investment Act. The new tables instruct employers to reduce the withholding on earned income, pursuant to the "Making Work Pay" tax credit.
Though the credit only applies to "earned' income, the IRS compelled pension plans to use the new tables as well, even though pension disbursements are most often categorized as "unearned" income.
This change in federal tax policy will unnecessarily reduce the tax withholding on pension income, socking many retirees with an unexpected tax bill at the end of the year. Without a reconsideration and change of this policy, hundreds of thousands of retirees in Ohio and across the nation will face a higher federal tax bill at a time when they can least afford it.
We stand ready to work with you to address this change, and we welcome your cooperation and feedback in doing so. Please do not hesitate to contact George Poulios in Congressman Jordan's office at 202-225-2676 or Adam Francis in Congressman Tiberi's office at 202-225-5355 to begin this discussion.
Jim Jordan
Member of Congress, Ohio 4th District
Pat Tiberi
Member of Congress, Ohio 12th District
Cc: Congressman Dave Camp, Ranking Member

Jordan, Tiberi letter to Secretary Timothy Geithner

Congress of the United States
Washington, DC 20515
April 3, 2009
Secretary Timothy Geithner
Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20220
Dear Secretary Geithner,
We write today requesting clarification and corrective action on recent changes to IRS tax withholding tables that will adversely impact public and private retirees in Ohio and beyond.
The IRS recently issued new withholding tables in accordance with the American Recovery and Investment Act. The new tables instruct employers to reduce the withholding on earned income, pursuant to the "Making Work Pay" tax credit.
Though the credit only applies to "earned" income, the IRS compelled pension plans to use the new tables as well, even though pension disbursements are most often categorized as "unearned" income.
This change in federal tax policy will unnecessarily reduce the tax withholding on pension income, socking many retirees with an unexpected tax bill at the end of the year. Without a reconsideration and change of this policy, hundreds of thousands of retirees in Ohio and across the nation will face a higher federal tax bill at a time when they can least afford it.
We stand ready to work with you to address this change, and we welcome your cooperation and feedback in doing so. Please do not hesitate to contact George Poulios in Congressman Jordan's office at 202-225-2676 or Adam Francis in Congressman Tiberi's office at 202-225-5355 to begin this discussion.
Jim Jordan
Member of Congress, Ohio 4th District
Pat Tiberi
Member of Congress, Ohio 12th District
Cc: Douglas Shulman, IRS Commissioner

Dennis Leone to Mike Nehf and STRS Board re: A growing list of bonus freezes

From Dennis Leone, April 3, 2009
Subject: And here is another one............
Let’s see, that’s Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Colorado, Sweden…………the list is growing and growing. What was the vote on the suspension of bonuses at STRS? Wasn’t it 6-3-1? And who on the board said: “There is only one state, Pennsylvania, that is doing anything like this.” Wasn’t it Myers? Hmmmm, please see the third paragraph from the bottom, about the Texas STRS investment chief.
Colorado PERA freezes bonuses
by Raquel Pichardo-Allison
2 April 2009
US – The Colorado Public Employees Retirement System has announced it will not pay bonuses to staff for 2008 results.
The pension fund said: “Colorado PERA is sensitive to the issue of employee compensation and we realize that these are difficult economic times for our members, retirees, employers, and taxpayers of the state of Colorado.”
The pension fund paid over US$1.3m to employees in 2006 and 2007. Bonuses are paid over two years and ranged from $2,888 to a high of $66,371.
In-house investment staff manages 60% of the PERA’s $40bn portfolio.
PERA is not the only pension to take action over incentive pay. Globally there has been increased scrutiny on bonus payments are pension funds generally post record losses.
Chief investment officer at the Teachers’ Retirement System of Texas T. Britton Harris in February announced he forfeited his bonus estimated at $167,838 after the pension fund lost 27%. (Global Pensions; 16 February 2009)
In Sweden, the government recently banned bonus payments at all government-owned entities, including the pension buffer funds. (Global Pensions; 25 March 2009)
Also yesterday, Colorado governor Bill Ritter signed a bill to consolidate the state’s defined contribution plans – the State of Colorado Public Officials and Employees’ Plan and the State of Colorado 457 Plan. The merger will be effective on 1 July 2009.

Labels: , , ,

RH Jones: To move forward, we must look back

From RH Jones, April 3, 2009
Subject: Fw: STRS Flashback - 5 Years Ago - Herbie gets the pink slip party...along with a $550,000 check!
To all:
To move forward, we must look back. We retired and active STRS members cannot tolerate failure of those that are supposed to represent us on the board. I wonder: Is there some way obtuse STRS board members can be impeached? We retired were, and active educators are, charged with meeting the needs of our students. The STRS board is charged with meeting our needs now and in the future. When a half-million dollars is thrown out here and there, how can the board be meeting our needs? A "buyout" is just another words for "golden parachute".
By the way, the Canton Repository is back. Having lost a great news reporter in Paul Kostyu, they now have News and Staff Reporter, Eric Norwall, of the Associated Press reporting on pension issues. The Repository ran an article on March 26 under "Moneyline" that mentioned about our OH STRS in a class action suite against Bank of America.
RHJones, retired STRS member

STRS Flashback - 5 Years Ago - Herbie gets the pink slip party...along with a $550,000 check!

From John Curry, April 3, 2009
STRS staff say farewell to ousted executive director
Canton Repository, March 25, 2009
Copley Columbus Bureau chief
COLUMBUS — Senior staff at the State Teachers Retirement System hosted a reception this week for their former boss, who was forced out of office last year.
The get-together, paid for by the system’s 10 senior staff members, was described as a chance for employees to say goodbye to Herbert L. Dyer, whose tenure with the system officially ended Feb. 29, though his last day on the job was Aug. 5.
Laura Ecklar, a spokeswoman for the system, said no system funds were used to pay for the event.
“We didn’t want the system to come under any criticism,” said Ecklar, who was one of the 10 who contributed to the cost of the Tuesday afternoon event. “We’re very aware of how people might perceive it.”
Dyer was forced to step down after 10 years as executive director after media reports raised questions about spending on travel, employee bonuses, artwork and other items. His contract was bought out at a cost of $550,000; he remained a consultant through February.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Dennis Leone to Mike Nehf and STRS Board: The sky will fall if.......

From Dennis Leone, April 1, 2009
Subject: You Must Read This -- Like it or Not !
Without a doubt, if the STRS Board approves $3.3 million in bonuses in a few months for FY 09, even though we have dropped $33.8 billion in assets (which is 42% of all that we have) legislation like this will move forward in Ohio, for sure. The STRS Board could have stopped the FY09 bonuses this past September when $6 million was handed out for FY08 (even though we had already $15 billion in FY 09), but the board did not. All is fine, pensions are secure, trust us, don’t overact, no knee jerk reactions, we’re in this for the long haul……..this is what STRS said over and over and over again.
So there was no effort to stop the bonuses in September, October, November, or December. Then on January 16, 2009, we suspended them effective 2-1-09, sort of. Even though the bonuses were “sort of” suspended effective 2-1-09, the “value added” nonsense will still produce giant bonus checks in a few months. Never mind that the STRS investment staff, no matter how poorly STRS might do in the stock market in FY 09, is receiving an AVERAGE BASE SALARY of over $150,000 (with spectacular benefits). No one on the board, except yours truly, understands that THIS pays for what the rest of you consider “value added.”
The “sky will fall” if the board approves $3.3 million in bonus checks for FY09 while the board is taking major steps to preserve pension solvency and the health care stabilization fund. The legislation summarized below is around the corner in Ohio. In fact, an STRS Board action to approve $3.3 million in bonuses for FY 09 will trigger it – I guarantee it.
Dennis Leone
Senate bans certain pension fund bonuses
By Kyle Cheney and Michael Norton/ State House News Service
Wed. Apr. 1, 2009
Maynard [Mass.] - Before voting 40-0 to approve legislation wiping out loopholes that have allowed public employees to game the pension system, the state Senate on Tuesday approved an amendment that prohibits the state pension fund from issuing bonuses to its employees during a year when the fund loses money.
The Pension Reserves Investment Trust, overseen by Treasurer Tim Cahill, has adjusted a program instituted under former Treasurer Shannon O’Brien under which bonuses are possible if certain investment benchmarks are hit.
The fund has taken a hard hit during the recession — its value dropped from a peak of $53.7 billion to $36.1 billion since the start of 2008 — but several employees netted bonuses last September based on the fund’s performance in fiscal 2008.
Pension fund executive director Michael Travaglini, for instance, received a $35,000 bonus, Treasury officials confirmed late Tuesday, and a pair of other senior fund officials also received bonuses.
The pension fund lost about $1 billion in fiscal 2008 but its performance ranked in the top 10 percent of public pension funds across the country.
Treasury aides could not provide information about other bonuses received by pension fund employees last September, or the total amount of those bonuses.
Bonuses are based on the average return over a three-year period and kick in if the fund exceeds its benchmark by 75 basis points. Top managers can earn up to 40 percent of their salaries as bonuses, while other staff may receive up to 30 percent of salary, under a program aimed at retaining and rewarding staff.
“It is very unlikely that anyone at PRIM will be getting a bonus for fiscal year 2009 given the current economic climate,” said Treasury spokeswoman Francy Ronayne.
The bill passed by the Senate shortly before 5:30 pm would also prohibit public employees from counting toward their pension any years in which they earned under $5,000. Lawmakers said this would end the practice of town moderators, for example, from racking up creditable years and growing lucrative pensions based upon years when they performed minimal public duties.
Lawmakers said they hoped passing the bill would restore public confidence to the system in the face of headline-grabbing abuses and efforts by public employees to exploit loopholes to fatten benefits.
Senate President Therese Murray said too many public employees “cheat the system by taking advantage of ambiguities in the law” and the bill aims to shut off loopholes.
The Senate rejected 11-27 a GOP-led effort to cap pension benefits at four times the average payout of $24,000 a year. Sen. Robert Hedlund, who sponsored an amendment to implement a cap, said it would only affect the state’s highest earners and still provide them with pensions of at least $96,000.
“I think it’s time, we say good-bye to golden parachutes,” said Hedlund (R-Weymouth).
In thwarting the amendment, Democrats said that setting a fair cap was too complex to deal with on a short-term basis. Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, the Senate’s budget chief, made this argument despite having a bill of his own to cap pension benefits. During debate, he said the amendment should not pass because “What’s reasonable to me might not be reasonable to anyone else in this body.”
Sen. Ken Donnelly, a freshman Democrat from Arlington, wondered how the state would recruit top-quality professors or doctors if pension benefits are limited. He also noted that if pensions are capped while employee contribution rates remain the same, some high-earning employees would end up paying more into the system than they receive upon retirement.
Instead, Donnelly and Panagiotakos punted the cap issue to a special commission authorized in the bill to study a variety of more complicated pension issues. That commission is due to report back in September when lawmakers say they hope to pass “pension reform II.”
Lawmakers also turned down a GOP effort to expand the special commission’s purview to include an examination of contributory pension systems, rather than the state’s current “defined-benefit”
system. Making his maiden speech to the chamber, Donnelly said workers were not expert enough to make investment decisions necessary in a contributory plan and that the state saves Social Security dollars with its current system.
Sen. Michael Knapik (R-Holyoke) said the amendment would simply enable the special commission to examine the issue to ensure taxpayers were being well-served by the current system.
“This is simply about gathering data. Let us not be fearful of gathering data. Information sets us free,” he said.
The bill, which heads to the House and a supportive Speaker Robert DeLeo, prohibits public employees from claiming a full year of a service for working a single day in a calendar year, from claiming credit for working in unpaid public positions, and from claiming dual pensions from more than one public retirement system.
Officials overseeing the state retirement system say it supports 56,000 retirees and contains 86,000 actively contributing employees.
Under the proposal, elected officials would also no longer be able to claim increased “termination” benefits for failing to win reelection and public employees filling in for supervisors would be prohibited from claiming a higher rate of disability compensation if they are injured.
The bill, generated by the Senate Ways and Means Committee without a formal public hearing, will not affect current retirees, senators said.
The two-and-a-half-hour session took an unusual turn when, after about 20 minutes of debate, Senate President Therese Murray asked all members to repair to the Senate Reading Room for a private discussion. Staff was forbidden from attending the meeting and no explanation was given. After a 30-minute recess, the Senate resumed its session at 3:14 p.m.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Oops! Ms. Frost-Brooks forgot to mention how the OEA-endorsed active teacher STRS Board members voted, didn't she?

From John Curry, March 31, 2009
Subject: Re: Making sure you got this e-mail from Patricia Frost-Brooks
Mr. Mahoney,
I respond to your forwarded letter from OEA President, Patricia Frost-Brooks, and trust you will deliver it to her.
Ms. Frost-Brooks,
How can you say, in your letter below, that the OEA supports the current suspension of bonus checks and no bonuses during down years in the stock market when the OEA-backed active teacher board members Myers, Meuser, and Ramser did not vote in support of said decisions?
You also neglected to mention the OEA-backed STRS board member/active teacher Tai Hayden who, unlike Myers, Meuser and Ramser above, voted with the majority of the board to suspend these bonuses. Are you not "proud" of her? I am.
John Curry a retired educator
From Mike Mahoney, March 31, 2009
Subject: Making sure you got this e-mail from Patricia Frost-Brooks
Hi, John,
I’ve been out from the office, but intending to make sure you got the message from OEA President Patricia Frost-Brooks, below.
[From Patricia Frost-Brooks via Mike Mahoney]
Dear Mr. Curry,
As President and official spokesperson of the Ohio Education Association, I am responding to your to your email to Mike Mahoney, OEA Director of Communications.
In light of the magnitude of market losses, we support the Board’s actions to suspend the bonus program and make reductions going forward. However, OEA believes it’s in the best interest of members of the system for STRS to retain high-quality investment staff. STRS saves tens of millions of dollars by having an internal staff rather than paying higher fees and transaction costs to Wall Street brokers. Further, investment performance of just .5% over the broader market generates hundreds of millions. That there was earnest and sometimes heated disagreement over policy decisions during the deliberation of this difficult and complex issue is not surprising. We support that kind of discourse when it is respectful and civil in tone. I am proud of Mark Meuser, Tim Myers, and Connie Ramser as OEA members who take their fiduciary responsibility to heart, stand up to bullying, and base their decisions on the best interests of all members of the system.
I am aware that state law allows STRS to keep member records private (information such as social security numbers, financial information, telephone numbers, etc.) and not open to public inspection. We support STRS’s decision not to provide member email addresses to the public in light of their right to privacy and the potential security risk of internet scams, viruses and the like. State law does, however, require that STRS provide lists of member names and addresses when requested.
Finally, Mr. Curry, I do agree with you regarding the intelligence of our members. I am certain that they are aware of the gravity of these economic times and their effect on the pension systems in America. As the STRS Board wrestles with the challenges presented by our struggling economy members are watching. They have the concerns that we all share—will I have a secure pension and access to affordable health care in retirement? I am confident that our elected STRS Board will continue to guide responsibly one of the premier pension systems in the United States. At OEA, we appreciate their efforts and the efforts of STRS staff fulfill their duties to both current and future retirees.
Patricia Frost-Brooks, OEA President

Toledo on the move re: STRS....we, at CORE, and Dr. Leone said this months ago but....few listened! Now, maybe they'll believe it!!!

From John Curry, March 31, 2009
The media just didn't pick up on this matter in a timely manner, did they?
Ohio teacher retirement fund losing billions
Toledo On the
By Tim Livingston
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
COLUMBUS, OH -- The recession is hitting Ohio's current and former teachers hard. NBC 24 has learned that the State Teachers Retirement Systems of Ohio is losing billions in its investments and in its health care fund.
As of Feb. 28, 2009, STRS Ohio's investment assets stood at $46.4 billion. That's a drop of more than $24 billion - and 32.1 percent - from where it was on June 30, 2008, when assets totaled $70.4 billion. According to the most recent STRS Ohio newsletter, this leaves "a shortfall in the funding of benefits."
The teacher health care fund is also being depleted. As of Jan. 1, 2009, it stood at $2.69 billion, a $1.34 billion drop from the previous year. Additionally, STRS says the projected life of its Ohio Health Care Program has been shortened from 13 years to nine years. It is now projected to last until 2018.
According to the STRS Ohio newsletter, the Retirement Board has already begun "long term contingency planning" to deal with the problem.

Must-see TV tonight: PBS, 9:00 p.m., "Sick Around America"

From John Curry, March 31, 2009
Subject: TONIGHT-PBS-@9PM ...Sick Around America
If there is any program STRS stakeholders should see...THIS IS IT! It's FREE...right in your living room tonight at 9!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Tuesday, March 31, 2009, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS
As the worsening economy leads to massive job losses—potentially forcing millions more Americans to go without health insurance—FRONTLINE travels the country examining the nation’s broken health care system and explores the need for a fundamental overhaul. Veteran FRONTLINE producer Jon Palfreman dissects the private insurance system, a system that not only fails to cover 46 million Americans but also leaves millions more underinsured and at risk of bankruptcy, in Sick Around America, airing Tuesday, March 31, 2009, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings).
At its best, American health care can be very good. For Microsoft employee Mark Murray and his wife, Melinda, their employee health plan paid for eight years of fertility treatments and covered all the costs of a very complicated pregnancy. “If it wasn’t for our health insurance,” Murray says, “we wouldn’t have a baby boy right now.” The Murrays’ medical bills totaled between $500,000 and $1 million, and their plan covered every penny.
But beyond large, high-wage employers like Microsoft, FRONTLINE learns that available, affordable, adequate insurance is becoming hard to find. Small businesses face a very bleak outlook for finding and keeping coverage. Coverage is becoming more expensive and less comprehensive, with high deductibles, co-pays and coverage limits. Georgetown University Professor Karen Pollitz explains that for many people, the current system is “like having an airbag in your car that’s made out of tissue paper: I’m so glad that it’s there, but if I ever get in a crash, it’s not going to protect me.”
Outside of employer-based health care plans, matters are even worse. Americans seeking insurance in the individual market must submit to “medical underwriting,” and if they have a pre-existing condition, they will likely be denied. Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO George Halvorson says frankly: “I could not get insurance. I’ve had heart surgery, and so I am completely uninsurable in the private market. So it’s important that I keep my job.”
Across the United States, FRONTLINE finds people making life decisions based on health insurance, stuck in jobs because of so-called job lock. One such person is 23-year-old Twin Cities, Minn., resident Matt Johnson, who put his career dreams on hold to get a job at Menards home improvement store because its benefits package covers his ulcerative colitis. Americans even stay in bad marriages, says Professor Pollitz, “because they just can’t afford to divorce their health insurance.”
For those Americans who find health coverage in the private market, there’s no guarantee it will protect them. In 2007, Palm Desert, Calif., realtor Jennifer Thompson received a letter from Blue Cross accepting her for coverage that read: “Congratulations! You have been approved for coverage with Blue Cross of California. ... The immediate value of your coverage is peace of mind.” But then Thompson discovered she had a cancer that required surgery, and three days after leaving the hospital, she received a letter from Blue Cross saying that her insurance was “rescinded,” leaving her uninsured and owing more than $160,000 in medical bills. Blue Cross cited Thompson’s previous history of cancer and results from a recent doctor’s visit as the reasons for the rescission. “Our system is not working,” says Professor Pollitz. “It’s designed to cut out on you right when you need it the most.” When questioned about Thompson’s case, Sam Nussbaum, chief medical officer of WellPoint, which owns Blue Cross of California, told FRONTLINE that because of legal considerations, “I can’t speak to that circumstance ... but no one likes to see a situation like this. People are buying health security.”
In the past, some states required insurance companies to cover everyone but found that many people waited to buy insurance until they fell ill, causing “adverse selection,” or a higher ratio of unhealthy to healthy people in the insurance pool. As a result, insurance companies stopped doing business in those states. Today, only five states—New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont—guarantee everyone insurance, a “privilege” reflected in premiums. “If we look at the average premium of those states,” says WellPoint’s Nussbaum, “that premium is three times higher on average—maybe $600 to $700 versus a [state] where the insurance market has allowed medical underwriting.”
For some Americans, life becomes a quest to find and keep health insurance. In 1994, Nikki White, a Bristol, Tenn., native with dreams of becoming a doctor, was diagnosed with lupus, a serious but treatable autoimmune disorder. Too ill to work, she lost her health insurance for several years, but then received coverage from the state’s Medicaid program. Soon, budget cuts made her ineligible for the state program. A few months later, White was rushed to the ER with severe lupus complications and racked up nearly $1 million in medical bills. She finally secured insurance under the government HIPPA law, but her condition was too advanced, and in 2006, at the age of 32, she died. White’s primary care physician, Amylyn Crawford, tells FRONTLINE: “Nikki didn’t die from lupus. Nikki died secondary to the complications of a failing health care system.”
Around the world, other developed democracies offer universal health care, requiring insurance companies to cover everyone. People are mandated to buy it; insurance for the poor is subsidized; and governments control prices by setting the cost of everything from doctors’ salaries and hospital rooms to drugs and MRIs. But efforts to implement similar policies in the U.S. have proven unsuccessful. In 2006, Massachusetts implemented reforms mandating everyone be covered by health insurance, but there are still problems of affordability. FRONTLINE profiles the Abramses, a Massachusetts family of four earning $63,000 annually, who found that although they were too prosperous to receive a health care subsidy, they could not afford to buy a health care insurance policy at around $12,000 a year. “What we’re finding out in Massachusetts,” says veteran insurance industry executive and consultant Robert Laszewski, “you can mandate that people have health insurance, but if it costs more than they can afford, it doesn’t matter.”
As President Obama launches his plan for reforming health care, Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman tells FRONTLINE: ’This is the first big opportunity for health reform since ... [the] early 1990s. And a question is again, pointedly, whether we will blow the opportunity again this time or [whether] we will actually get it all done or get something significant done.” But consultant Laszewski wonders if Americans have the will to make it happen. “Every doctor I meet says he’s underpaid. I’ve yet to meet a hospital executive who thinks he or she can operate on less. I have yet to meet a patient who is willing to sacrifice care. So we have this $2.2 trillion system, and I haven’t met anybody in any of the stakeholders that’s willing to take less. And until we’re willing to have that conversation, we’re just sort of nibbling around the edges.”
Sick Around America is a FRONTLINE co-production with Palfreman Film Group. The writer, producer and director is Jon Palfreman. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional series funding is provided by the Park Foundation. Additional funding for Sick Around America is provided by The Colorado Health Foundation, The Commonwealth Fund and The Colorado Trust. FRONTLINE is closed-captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers and described for people who are blind or visually impaired by the Media Access Group at WGBH. FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation. The senior producer is Raney Aronson. The executive producer of special projects is Michael Sullivan. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is David Fanning.
Promotional photography can be downloaded from the PBS pressroom.
Press contacts
Diane Buxton
(617) 300-5375
Alissa Rooney
(617) 300-5314

Simon Owens: Walgreen Take Care clinics to offer free HC to customers who are laid off and lose their jobs -- and for the uninsured

From Simon Owens, March 31, 2009
Subject: Kathie, a news tip for your blog
Hey Kathie,
I read your post today mentioning the upcoming PBS segment on America's health care system. I don't know if you've seen this already, but the AP just reported that starting today, Walgreens and its Take Care clinics are going to start offering free healthcare to their customers that get laid off and lose their jobs:
Anyway, I thought this was something you and your readers would find interesting.
take care, Simon
* * *
March 31, 2009, AP
Walgreens Offering Free Healthcare For Jobless, Uninsured
NEW YORK — Drugstore operator Walgreen will offer free clinic visits to the unemployed and uninsured for the rest of the year, providing tests and routine treatment for minor ailments through its walk-in clinics _ though patients will still pay for precriptions.
Walgreen said patients who lose their job and health insurance after March 31 will be able to get free treatment at its in-store Take Care clinics for respiratory problems, allergies, infections and skin conditions, among other ailments. Typically those treatments cost $59 or more for patients with no insurance.
Hal Rosenbluth, chairman of the Take Care Health Systems division, described the plan as something close to an experiment: He said Walgreen isn't sure of patient demand or how much providing the services might cost the company.
It's likely to generate more attention for the clinics, however. Rosenbluth said a typical Take Care patient tells eight other people about his or her experience. So far, about 30 percent of Take Care patients were new customers to Walgreen.
The program is expected to last through the end of 2009. Walgreen runs 341 Take Care clinics in 35 markets around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Cleveland.
Free services will be offered only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Walgreen said it will not offer free checkups, vaccinations or other injections because it is focusing on providing services patients might otherwise get at an urgent-care center or even an emergency room.
Patients must present proof they are unemployed, including a federal or state unemployment determination letter and an unemployment check stub. They will have to sign a form at the clinic saying they have lost their jobs and health benefits. If they find a new job or get new health insurance, they will no longer be eligible for free care.
Spouses and children are also eligible for free services if they don't have insurance of their own.
Medical lab operator Quest Diagnostics is participating in the program by offering free tests for step throat and urinary tract infections.
Walgreen bought the Take Care clinics in May 2007. Take Care says it has seen about 1.2 million patients since its launch in November 2005 and estimates that up to 30 percent of them were uninsured.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shirlee Zerkel to Mike Mahoney: You can't have it both ways

From Shirlee Zerkel, March 29, 2009
Subject: "Odd Practice"
Dear Mr. Mahoney:
I find it an "odd practice" that OEA, an organization that supports education and teachers' right, would try to stop teachers from receiving educational material regarding STRS Board member candidates. But the OEA continues to do such at nearly every election for board members. It is the teachers' right to be fully informed in the Board elections for it affects their personal futures.
In your recent email to the OEA Board of Directors, District Leaders, and OEA Local Presidents, you accuse the candidate, Mr. Stoll, of "cynical exploitation of the emotions of educators. Why shouldn't active teachers be informed of the true financial situation at STRS. I see Mr. Stoll's statements no more of an exploitation of the emotions of active educators than the feel good statements coming from your association.
Even the March STRS Ohio News states: "There are no short-term problems regarding the ability to pay current pension benefits when they are due." Did you happen to notice the words: short-term, ability to pay and current benefits? What is the short term? What is the future of the active teachers? I also want you to take note of the next paragraph in the News letter: "However, the next actuarial valuation of the pension fund in October 2009 will show that the reduced level of investment assets, combined with future contributions from members and employers and investment earnings, will NOT be sufficient to meet STRS Ohio's long-term pension obligations without increases in contributions and/or changes in benefits." So even STRS is stating to the retirees that money is running out.The above information was also brought up in discussion at the Feb. Board meeting by Mr. Slater, and he would give no answer as to how long of a time period "short-term" meant. So between OEA and STRS, Ohio teachers, both active and retired, are kept in the dark about their financial future. I feel we do have need to be "fearful of the financial future of STRS."
Please stop painting the rosy picture that all is well with the pension system in order get your candidate elected. Please stop keeping the names and information of other candidates for the STRS Board from the voting members.
This year I feel that you have gone too far in your communications to locals by using very negative nouns and adjectives to describe Mr. Stoll, who did not seek your recommendation to run for the office, and to describe a present Board member, Dr. Dennis Leone, who has pushed for much needed reform instead of being a 'yes' vote for whatever the STRS staff brings to the Board for a vote. This man deserves respect because of his position and mostly because of his efforts to adhere to the ORC. Many of the issues he has brought before the Board have turned out to be valid and some of them are now being implemented. There are present OEA approved Board members who approve any request of the staff without asking any questions. I think that is what OEA really wants. Let's just all get along; let the staff tell the Board member how to vote; then let's not question anything that is recommended; let's vote all the same -- not one dissenting vote allowed by OEA! I would be proud to be the type of dissident Board member that DR. Leone is.
Teachers never sought OEA's recommendation of who to vote for; it was forced on them because those are the only candidate names allowed to be distributed in OEA covered schools. Moreover your recent email confirms my position. In your email you "commend the recent vote by the STRS board to suspend 2009 bonuses," Did you know that the suspension of bonuses was pushed by the very man you refer to in a negative way as the dissident member. Dr. Leone. Three of your OEA-approved members either did NOT vote to suspend the bonuses or abstained from voting. You claim that your recommended board members who have the "temperament, qualifications and judgement to serve on the board," Where was their judgement on the suspension vote? Yet you state that you "commend" the Board. You can't have it both ways!
I will never vote for an OEA-recommended candidate in any election because of your unfair and "odd practices."
Shirlee Zerkel
Life member of OEA-R
Life member of NEA-R
Member of CORE
2002 STRS Benefit Recipient

RH Jones: Will the new Board lead just as honorably as its founders?

From RH Jones, March 29, 2009
Subject: Fw: Sweet STRS dreams, Mr. Sweet....and also YSU trustees!
To all:
May I remind educators both active & retired that it was with the formation of the Concerned Ohio Retired Educators (CORE) that initiated the drive to get such safeguards written into the law that now keeps Ohio's public school boards from giving such exploitive administrator perks added to the final 3-year average in calculating OH STRS benefits? Many of us spent untold hours of time in getting the Ohio legislature to move forward to craft legislation that now protects our STRS from such abuses of the system. We were fought every step of the way by some narrow minded union leaders -- who later on, falsely claimed they were the initiators. To add to our problems, our Ohio Retired Teacher Association (ORTA) "leadership" was too timid to react to the many members that desired our pensions protected. The proof is all on file by me and many others.
However, it is Dr. Dennis Leone who deserves the major credit for these protective laws. For several years, previous to him, we retirees were duped by active and retired board members who were "yes-men and women" to the STRS management. Many were found to be guilty of misdemeanor law violations. John Lazares is not to be forgotten. He was a dedicated "sidekick" who made up a wonderful team much like the Lone Ranger and Tonto is hostile Indian country. While in ill health, he heroically struggled to battle those who were out for personal gain, or from out of ignorance, that were misusing and misunderstanding the Ohio Revised Code governing our STRS.
In important STRS board decisions, before Dr. Leone, retirees were almost voiceless. And, further, many of the board were, and some still are, just plain incompetent. However, my judgment, after following the fiasco for many years, is that the board has recently made many positive decisions. Hopefully, the new incoming elected board members will be of a better caliber than some have shown to be in the past. Our future security and happiness depends on it.
We are the reason for a STRS. We are why it was formed so long ago by Ohio statesmen/women of the past. Will the new STRS board be up to the task of leading just as honorably? I hope so.
RHJones, a retired STRS member

Is a sweet deal in the works for YSU prez?

From John Curry, March 29, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Is a sweet deal in the works for YSU prez?

Having failed to get the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio to agree to a plan that would have boosted his pension, Dr. David Sweet, president of Youngstown State University, has come up with an alternate proposal that is bound to generate heated public debate.

According to the chatter on and off campus, Sweet, whose contract expires June 30, 2010, wants YSU to buy his house in Liberty Township for $310,000. He and his wife, Pat, purchased it in 2000, when he began his presidency, for $210,000. The additional $100,000 Sweet is seeking would cover the cost of improvements made to the house.

What’s going on here? Simple: The president is coming to the end of his tenure and appears to have concluded that the board of trustees will soon begin the search for his successor. Thus, his focus on his pension.

When he was hired, his contract called for a base salary, along with other compensation, including housing and car allowances. The university also paid for such things as a country club membership and mileage. The contract was renewed in 2004 prior to its expiration, resulting in Sweet being able to serve to the end of June next year.

This year, his salary is $239,358; he receives a housing allowance of $60,180 and a car allowance of $9,078, for a total of $308,616.

Salary roll-in

When the contract was renewed, one of the provisions called for the house and car allowances to be phased out, and the total amount rolled into his salary. That would have increased Sweet’s income, and because of the way public pensions are figured, would have boosted his pension. The STRS calculates retirement benefits using years in the system and the employee’s final average salary of the highest three years.

But when the teachers retirement system was informed in 2005 that the housing and car allowances were being phased out and that money was being rolled into the president’s base salary, the response from the agency was not what Sweet or the board of trustees had anticipated.

The STRS remains firm in its contention that the section of state law defining compensation for pension purposes does not permit housing and car allowances to be included.

And so the chatter about Sweet’s wanting the university to buy his house. There also is talk of other options being explored to make up for the loss in the pension amount, such as a relocation allowance for when Sweet and his wife leave the Valley.

As the discussion about the president’s contract and pension picks up steam — the board of trustees will have to make the final determination — one of the questions that must be answered is this: Why should a public institution supported with taxpayer dollars be required to supplement the pension of a public employee?

In 2004, when Sweet’s contract was renegotiated, both he and the board of trustees acted in good faith believing that the housing and car allowances could be rolled into his base salary. The rejection by the STRS is nobody’s fault. The president is still receiving the allowances.

The current board of trustees — most of the members weren’t involved in the contract renewal — must decide whether Sweet’s demands are reasonable, given the worsening national, state and local economies.

The trustees must also address the issue of the time remaining in the contract. The agreement was not signed under duress, which means Sweet had every intention of serving until the end of June 2010.

Is there any reason why he cannot fulfill the requirements? And, if he does leave early, would that put pressure on the trustees to quickly find a replacement?

Financial challenges

This isn’t just about one man. It’s about an institution of higher learning that is facing major financial challenges, and growing discontent among the taxpayers who resent the fact that public pensions are guaranteed.

Indeed, YSU’s president himself is bracing for tough times. In an e-mail letter last week to the campus community, he issued this warning:

“We will not be able to either meet our obligations or fund new initiatives within a projected FY2010 budget of $152.8 million without significant reductions in expenses ...”

Talk about bad timing — for Sweet’s push to boost his pension.
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
web page counter
Vermont Teddy Bear Company