The Irish proverb goes, ‘May there always be work for your hands to do, may your purse always hold a coin or two,’—a sentiment we’d wager most everyone shares. Unfortunately though it takes more than good luck and well-meaning thoughts to achieve a secure financial future, especially when unfunded public pensions factor into the equation.
Whether a public worker or private employee, most all Americans are impacted by the public pension crisis facing our nation. Totaling an estimated $4 billion debt, state and local unfunded pension liabilities are costing taxpayers big. Just this week in California new accounting standards show the state’s debt to be significantly higher than previously realized with the addition of pension debt. Los Angeles County, for example, carries more than $8 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, bringing its projected long-term debt to $20 billion.
Unfortunately, crippling pension costs are not only limited to the Golden State; much of the nation is facing tremendous budget challenges because of the escalating debt. Just look at states like Illinois, Pennsylvania and Alabama, and cities such as Chicago and Detroit–all in budgetary trouble because of unfunded pension liabilities. As pension debt continues to go unchecked, policymakers tend to pull funds from important public services like education, public safety and transportation to pay it down. And when that doesn’t do the trick, they tend to raise taxes.
Growing pension debt not only costs taxpayers, it threatens the solvency of public employee retirement plans, putting at risk the hard-earned savings of many workers. Retirement plans should place employees on a path to a secure retirement. To do that, policymakers need to stop over promising and underfunding employees’ retirement futures. It’s pretty straightforward really, a simple lesson we all learned in adolescence, the importance of living within our means.
Pension benefits should be fair, sustainable and transparent. Employees should get every cent they earn and taxpayers should get all they pay for, and not be overtaxed for a system in need of reform. In short, all workers deserve safe and secure futures, and ‘a coin or two’ in their pockets.