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Posts Tagged ‘public pensions’

As many of you probably know, Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters supported former Mayor Mark Funkhouser in his bid for re-election earlier this year.

Within a day or two after Funkhouser finished third in the primary, officials with Local 42 met with Sly James and Mike Burke, who advanced to the general election by finishing first and second respectively in the primary.

In short order, the firefighters endorsed James, who went on to win the general election handily.

With the firefighters, there’s always a price to be paid — usually a big price — for their backing.

In the coming weeks, Kansas Citians will find out just how many pounds of flesh Local 42 president Louie Wright was able to extract from James.

The telling, upcoming issue is pension reform, which will have a massive effect on city finances — one way or the other — for decades to come.

Today, the City Council Finance Committee will consider recommendations from a special Pension System Task Force, which has been meeting for almost a year, trying to devise a plan for moving the city forward on pensions in a fair but responsible way.

Task Force Chairman Herb Kohn, a lawyer with extensive political ties, will discuss the task force’s recommendations with the Finance Committee.

Naturally, Local 42 opposes the key recommended changes because they would reduce the lavish, defined pension system that firefighters — and most other city employees — enjoy.

According to the lead editorial in Monday’s Kansas City Star, task force recommendations include:

:: Increasing the employee contributions rate by a minimum of 1 percent in all four of the city’s pension systems.

:: Eliminating the 3 percent annual cost of living adjustment for many retirees and substituting one that could average 2 percent or less per year.

:: Changing the funding formula so that employees have to work a few more years before they are eligible for full pensions.

The editorial, probably written by Yael Abouhalkah, says the main thing missing is a recommendation to quickly establish a 401(k)-style plan for some workers.

The pension issue essentially will put James and the 12 other council members in the position of choosing between city and citizens’ interests on one hand and union interests on the other.

You can bet that Local 42 has been lobbying the council for weeks and that its officials laid the foundation for this battle early this year, when they decided which candidates to endorse.

You can also bet that the council members, including James, will be squirming in their seats as they try to balance any pledges they made to Local 42 with their fiduciary responsibility to the public.

James — who has had a nice, smooth, seven-month honeymoon — will be the main person on the spot. We will be able to judge by his actions on this issue if he is a mayor for the people or a mayor for the special interests.

My guess is that the task force’s decision not to push quickly for the institution of a 401(k)-style plan at City Hall was the first major concession to Local 42 and the city’s other major union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Local 42 will be looking for more concessions, and they’ll be wielding the hammer of  past promises against the anvil of future endorsements:

“Vote with us, like you said you would last year…Vote with us or we’ll defeat you the next time you run.”

In its editorial, The Star laid the challenge at James’ feet.

“James and the council need to resist the pressure to protect the current arrangements. The special committee’s recommendations would go a long way to control the cost of taxpayer-financed pensions.”

Sly James…your honeymoon is about to end. The cards are being dealt; we will be watching to see how you play them.

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I was thinking about George Steinbrenner yesterday as my daughter and I watched the Oakland A’s drub the Royals 9-6 at Kauffman Stadium.

The combination of the 95-degree heat, still air and Brian Bannister pitching something akin to batting practice (There goes another A’s home run!) put us in close to a catatonic state. Fortunately, however, along about the fifth inning, my daughter had the good sense to suggest that we get some water. The $4.25-each investments brought us around a bit.

But, like I was saying, when I was reasonably conscious I was thinking about Steinbrenner. I was thinking particularly about a letter to the editor that appeared in The New York Times last Thursday. The writer, Paul Kaplan of Roswell, Ga., said that Steinbrenner was responsible for diminishing baseball for about two-thirds of the fans.

“That is roughly the percentage of teams that start each season with no realistic chance of becoming champions because they can’t afford the best players under the twisted system that Mr. Steinbrenner exploited,” Kaplan wrote. “Yes, he was a brilliant businessman, but he spoiled the sport that so many loved back when it was played on a level field.”

What can you say, other than “Amen”?

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Maybe you read last week about the Missouri General Assembly approving — and Gov. Jay Nixon signing — a bill that will give $150 million in tax breaks for automakers and aimed at Ford Motor Co.’s assembly plant in Claycomo. 

Part of the money to finance the tax breaks will come from changes in the state pension system. The reforms — all good, in my opinion — will raise the retirement age for most state workers from 62 to 67; require a 4 percent contribution from employees toward their pension funds; and require them to work 10 years before becoming eligible for retirement benefits, instead of the current five years. 

Nixon called the pension changes ” a fiscally responsible measure to modernize the pension system for future state employees and ensure the solvency of this retirement system.”

John Burnett

I just about jumped out of my chair, however, when I read what state Rep. John Burnett, a Kansas City Democrat, had to say about the pension reforms. 

“We just did some brutal, brutal revisions to the pension system,” Burnett said.

I understand that Burnett represents an area — northeastern Kansas City — that has a lot of blue-collar workers and many government employees. But, my God, hasn’t Burnett hasn’t been reading about the international financial crisis? The one that has been fueled by overly generous pension systems in southern European countries, including Greece, Portugal and Spain? 

Here in the States, our governments — state, local and national — have been doling out extremely generous pension benefits for decades, and it’s catching up with us, like it did with the European countries.

Wake up, John! The fabric in the golden parachute of government employment is fraying and about to tear asunder.

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Overheard at Sutherlands…..A man with a piece of corrugated tubing asks the checkout clerk if the store has a type of corrugated tubing similar to what he has. The clerk shuffles through some product paperwork and replies, “We don’t have no corrugated nothing.”

Six words, four negatives. Gotta be a record. I didn’t know whether to applaud or cry.

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