The Norman Transcript

Opinion

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
Opinion
  • Repairs still needed

    Lawmakers once again kicked the can down the road on making needed repairs to the state Capitol. By a 62-34 vote, they turned down a Senate-approved plan to authorize up to $160 million in bonds to repair the nearly century-old building....

    April 24, 2014

  • Health care needs have reached critical stage

    Once again, the Republican-led Oklahoma legislators are leaving Oklahoma’s neediest in the dust with their proposed 2014-2015 budget. Studies by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance ...

    April 24, 2014

  • Can’t have it both ways

    Local sheriff Joe Lester wasn’t among the state sheriffs and lawmakers protesting the removal of state prisoners from county jails this week. The sheriffs, some of whom have protested by having too many state prisoners in their ...

    April 24, 2014

  • Help for rural America

    A drive through rural parts of the Southwest can be depressing. For sale and for rent signs are prevalent. Businesses along main streets have closed. Unless they are close to a major interstate highway, many communities are in decline....

    April 23, 2014

  • Embarrassment to Oklahoma, again

    The standardized testing that was halted in local schools Monday is another embarrassment to the state. The same thing happened a year ago and Oklahoma gave them another chance....

    April 23, 2014

  • Time to move on; exit of Sebelius is right choice

    From the moment it became obvious that healthcare.gov wasn’t working, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius became damaged goods for the White House....

    April 23, 2014

  • Happy birthday to us

    We don’t expect any cake and that many candles might be dangerous but today is the unofficial 125th birthday of Norman....

    April 22, 2014

  • Hero of Haarlem … for common good

    “Trudging stoutly along by the canal,” as the story goes, the 8-year-old son of a Dutch sluicer was returning home from delivering cakes to a blind man. Humming as he passed the dikes, he noticed that recent rains had made his father’s job ...

    April 22, 2014

  • Hate without end

    The news that a former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan is suspected of shooting and killing three people near Jewish community centers in Kansas seems at first glance like a disparaged past flaring briefly into the present. Americans like ...

    April 21, 2014

  • Reform is necessary

    Editor, The Transcript: Last year, the legislature passed laws reforming the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, which was a good start, but more is needed. Recent media reports have revealed that the ODVA employs M.D. and D.O. ...

    April 20, 2014