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 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 $5 trillion debt, state and local unfunded pension liabilities are costing taxpayers big.
Just look at states like Illinois, Pennsylvania and Alabama, and cities such as Chicago and Detroit–all in financial straits 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. Look at what’s happening in California to the retirees of the now-defunct LA Works job training agency. Because LA Works’ pension went without being fully funded and its debt went unpaid after the agency folded in 2014, CalPERS is now considering cutting the benefits of the nearly 200 former employees by as much as 63 percent. You may recall in November CalPERS voted to reduce City of Loyalton retiree benefits because the town hadn’t kept up with its pension funding before dropping out of the CalPERS system.
Both scenarios, along with countless others happening throughout the country, are happening because policymakers over-promise and underfund employees’ retirement futures. It’s pretty straightforward really, a simple lesson we all learned in adolescence, the importance of living within our means. Yet, when policymakers don’t, it’s the retirees who are dealt the blow.
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.