The Norman Transcript

Breaking News

Columns

December 7, 2013

Pensions slash a crisis

NORMAN — The latest news out of Detroit isn’t good. To get its fresh start, this once great but now bankrupt city is going to stick it to municipal employees and retirees.

City retirees there haven’t enjoyed exactly lavish pensions, but what they had was thought to be secure, protected under the state’s constitution. That was until this week, when a federal judge ruled that guarantee void.

This has bad implications for Detroit, and for public employees everywhere.

Federal Judge Steven W. Rhodes ruled that federal law trumps Michigan’s constitutional protection for public pensions. That means that pensions that were promised to more than 21,000 Detroit workers — fire and police, trash haulers, water and street crews — can now be considered as part of the unsecured debt of the city.

To put it in human terms, the public librarian who worked 30 years checking out books, helping countless youngsters learn to read, might see her pension slashed. That might mean this fixed income retiree won’t be able to pay her mortgage or heating bill each month.

According to Detroit Free Press, general city retirees receive about $19,000 in average pension benefits. Police and fire former employees get about $32,000, but they are also not eligible for Social Security benefits as part of their pension agreements.

The danger is that this approach will be presented as inevitable when cities and states finally have to clean up the messes of past poor governance. If the decision is upheld, the way has been greased for other cities to follow suit.

There’s something about the way very serious people discuss The Pension Crisis that promotes the stick-it-to-the-retirees approach. They like to throw around large, scary numbers without any context, such as expressing pension shortfalls as a percentage of expected revenues or income. They blame unions (or, if they’re particularly hostile, “union bosses”) for hanging on to something that private-sector employees once had but lost.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Columns
  • Don’t let moderation confuse you

    Jeb Bush’s recent compassionate comments on immigration show how far apart he is from the far right of the Republican Party....

    April 20, 2014

  • Priest’s execution should spur action

    In the hierarchy of saints, martyrs are on the highest rung of the celestial ladder, at least for me....

    April 20, 2014

  • Settlers found opportunities in red dirt fields

    There are few constants in families where the teenagers and soon-to-be teenagers outnumber their parents. One things holds true at my home: Nobody gets out of bed in the morning before dear old Dad....

    April 20, 2014

  • NRA members need to step up

    Please, Mr. Bloomberg, leave the checkbook open, but step away from the podium. Your efforts to curb gun violence and improve safety are notable. The National Rifle Association thanks you....

    April 19, 2014

  • First, do no harm — to your bank account

    After being sued by the Wall Street Journal, the government finally released its Medicare reimbursement data last week. It included the less-than-stunning revelation that 28 of the 100 doctors who received the largest payments in 2012 were ...

    April 15, 2014

  • Reading between the lines

    Reading is such an improbable idea — a miracle, really. Yet simple squiggles on a page, arranged just so, can convey ideas that change the way we think or introduce to us characters we love for a lifetime. In celebration of reading — and ...

    April 15, 2014

  • CCFI tackling area’s child abuse problem

    Editor, The Transcript: To those of you who are reading this editorial, I assume you care or at least are entertained by the opinions of others. It is my hope and desire that when you read this editorial, you will care about the facts. ...

    April 12, 2014

  • Does Oklahoma need advice from Texas?

    Does Texas have a lock on “brilliant minds”? The names of Texans like Congressman Louie Gomert, Sen. Ted Cruz and that other guy ... I can’t think of his name ... oh yeah, Rick Perry come to mind very quickly. Add to that infamous list ...

    April 12, 2014

  • Why Comcast-Time Warner deal makes sense

    Say this about the deal announced Thursday for Comcast to buy Time Warner Cable: It’s big. Big price tag of $45 billion. Big combined subscriber base of 30 million households. And big risk of a veto from government antitrust regulators....

    April 12, 2014

  • Solid evidence within ice record

    In his November 10 Letter, Gary Reynolds misstated information in the October 27 op-ed by Catherine Hobbs, “New report says global warming is “unequivocal.” Mr. Reynolds incorrectly stated that Dr. Hobbs cited evidence from the 2007 UN ...

    April 12, 2014