Saturday, February 22, 2020

Trump should go to war against public employee pensions

By Douglas MacKinnon
opinion contributor 
02/22/20 12:00 PM EST

The views expressed 
by contributors 
are their own 
not the view of The Hill

© Getty

The financial viability of an escalating number of towns, cities, counties and states is on the verge of ruinous collapse.

It is truly a threat to the economic and national security of our nation. Shockingly, this threat could be eradicated almost overnight if our politicians would display the united backbone needed to act.

President Trump could — and should — provide that backbone by turning his attention to these fiscal assassins of our cities and our states. It’s one advantage to having a successful businessman in the Oval Office. I’m referring to the public employee pension and benefit plans that collectively are trillions of dollars in the red — yes, trillions, with a T.

These gold-plated plans not only are bankrupting towns, cities, counties and states. They’re also forcing punishing taxes upon tens of millions of hardworking Americans who derive nothing from these plans, usually pushed and enforced by unions.

In California, approximately 80 cents of every tax dollar must be set aside to pay for the underfunded public employee pension and benefit plans. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger once warned that those who enable these destroyers of towns, cities and states “don’t want a government of the people, by the people and for the people but a government of the employees, by the employees and for the employees.”

Public employees, that is.

For years now, the bloated and bullying unions have claimed that public employees deserve big pensions and benefits because no one would take their low-paying jobs without them. But really? Low-paying jobs?

Let’s test out that empty protest.

Let’s stipulate that public jobs — paying from $30,000 to well over $100,000 per year — will have zero pensions and benefits. I guarantee you that as soon as these jobs are posted, millions of underpaid or unemployed Americans will line up for the chance to get such a salary.

Let’s take a look at an example of “underpaid” public employees. In my former home state of Massachusetts, newly released state payroll records for 2019 show that almost 17,000 public employees made $100,000 or more. One state police officer brought home approximately $308,000.

The state’s public employee payroll exploded to over $8 billion last year. That’s $8 billion in a state where the pension and benefit program for public employees is dramatically underwater. Guess who they force to pay the difference to keep the public employee gravy train going?

“This is unsustainable,” warned the spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “Why are so many people getting paid more than the governor? There are a lot of other things that could be served that are not.”

That’s precisely the point. Cities, counties and states are being forced to stop or sharply curtail programs created to help the disadvantaged as they divert the tax money needed to fund public employee pension and benefit plans. Why help poor people when public employees making good salaries need taxpayers to pay for their benefits?

It is perhaps the most destructive financial crisis of our time. But it also would be amazingly easy to stop in its tracks.

Simply cancel all public employee pensions, forever, for new hires and reduce or stop the benefits being paid out from plans that are bankrupt. Naturally, the public employee unions will scream, “But our employees paid into this pension system and have earned that pension.”

The truth is — as the union representatives and employees themselves know — they paid pennies on the dollar for these generous plans. That being the case, figure out exactly how much each public employee paid into his or her plan over the years and then pay them exactly that amount in retirement and health care benefits and not one penny more.

Let them do what the more than 95 percent of Americans who are not protected by a pension and health care plan do: Invest in a 401(k) plan or another private investment option.

The deep, dark secret of public employee unions and liberal politicians who push these massive benefit plans is that, when states such as California, Illinois, New York and others go completely broke, they intend to make the federal government and American taxpayers bail them out.

President Trump is aware of that socialist strategy. Let’s hope he slams on the brakes to protect the fiscal health of our nation.

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.

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