Thursday, February 18, 2010

State Employees Retirement System

The following post is a comment on this story from NPR:

Study: States Must Fill $1 Trillion Pension Gap

Unless states like Pennsylvania pass legislation to increase retirement age, reduce retirement benefits, or significantly increase employee contributions, higher taxes or significant cuts in other government programs are the only reasonable options to the pension gap problem. Assuming state lawmakers who, most if not all, have pensions through the state's defined benefit retirement system are unlikely to pass legislation that will lower their retirement benefits to account for their failure to properly fund the system in the first place (or at least incur some of the loss in investment returns due to the recession -like almost everyone else), dramatic cuts in education, healthcare, etc. are the only likely options. Since education is one of the largest state expenditures, it is unfortunate that the likely outcome is that the current generation of students will suffer at the expense of state employees' retirement. Arguably, future tuition and fee hikes will not go to improving educational outcomes but will go to current and future retirees to offset what they lost in investment returns during the recession. Other public and private employees in defined "contribution" plans have also suffered significantly from the recent recession and will bear the full effect in their retirement years but current law requires that we make those in the state's defined benefit system whole in their retirement. I'm sure many law makers and university employees in the state retirement system haven't thought through the unintended consequences yet.

Regrettably, this is just one problem in a long list. Decades of short term thinking aimed more at maximizing votes for the next election than at long term improvements in the standard of living are strangling our economy and will very likely leave future generations progressively worse off. Don’t blame the politicians; they are playing the game we asked them to play. We will only vote for politicians who can bring home the spending and lower our taxes without thinking about the consequences on future generations.

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