Public pensions: Just reward or too much?

Which side of the pension divide are you on? Why?

Many younger teachers and other public workers will not enjoy as secure a retirement as their predecessors, AJC reporter Russell Grantham writes. Many can expect pay cuts, furloughs and growing pressure to trim public employees’ pension benefits.

On the other hand, many in the private sector believe state and local employees’ pensions and pay are out of control and need to be cut — even if state and local governments have to file bankruptcy to do it, Grantham writes.

What do you think? Should federal law be changed to allow bankruptcy as an option to shed pension obligations?

- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat

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110 comments Add your comment

Miller

March 29th, 2011
7:26 am

See, here’s the difference: I’m saving like mad for my retirement, more than 20% of my income, every single year. I’m watching the dimes, investing prudentially, making sure I can take care of myself and not be a burden to others. Government slugs aren’t doing that. They’re just counting on politicians to take the money that I earn and save and give it to them, in return for votes and contributions, of course. The politicians don’t care if I’m taxed out of my savings later–they’ll be out of office and on guaranteed taxpayer-funded pensions of their own. Pay up, see, or go to jail!

In the real world, we call that “theft,” and the people who take that money “thieves.”

Deborah

March 29th, 2011
7:38 am

So now I’m a thief for devoting 33 years to a job where we got no bonuses and paltry, if any, raises. Yes, I accepted the low pay. What you are saving is about what I was losing every month! So quit your whining!

Miller

March 29th, 2011
7:42 am

I was on a flight several years ago next to a couple of (GA) state employees. I’m reasonably sure they weren’t cops or firefighters. They spent the entire trip talking about how they and their buds were gaming the retirement system; cashing in sick days as income (try that with any company, anywhere), maxing out overtime just before retirement, scratch-my-back deals with supervisors for big raises in their last year, that kind of thing. Anything to boost the annual check after they stopped “working.” All on the taxpayers’ dime, of course.

Really gave me a warm fuzzy regarding “public servants.”

JDK

March 29th, 2011
7:54 am

Deborah – you had 33 years to do the right thing. You were a fool to believe the government would take care of you. Sounds if you are the whiney one!

q

March 29th, 2011
7:59 am

The reporters article is just another example of how “education pays”. The woman in the article had a masters degree. The guy featered in the aricle had no education. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Instead of chosing an occupation where she could have tripled her salary she chose to become a public servant. Why shouldn’t she be rewarded for her sacrifice and let’s not forget about the countless number of students who benefited from having such a highly qualified science teacher. Government employess give up higher salaries for job security and benefits. Private sector employees never complained when things were good and they were macking thousands more a year than government employees could ever earn(i.e. bonuses and stock options). Now since things have gone sour government employees are over paid. What a load of crap! Basically boils down to money or job security. Life is about choices.

Dave

March 29th, 2011
8:08 am

I have worked 28 years for the State of Georgia. I have a Masters Degree at my own expense. We have been paid lower salaries, had to contribute to the retirement system, been furloughed, paying large increases into Health Care, etc…My wife was laid off her job for 2 years. I have family in the Private sector. What’s my point? Many State and local Government workers have sacrificed and understand the loss of jobs and pensions in the Private Sector. We are not your enemies but your brothers and sisters. Dont take away what we honestly earned. I am not talking about the minority of “Government Slugs” who game the system. The Private Sector has their employee problems too. Remember it was the Stock Market crash, Baby Boomers, etc…that are roots of this problem. Pensions and benefits often were the only way State and local governments could attract employees from higher paying jobs in the Private Sector. Are changes necessary? Maybe. But don’t demonize honest hard working good people for the career path they chose and invested in years ago.

Mid GA Retiree

March 29th, 2011
8:09 am

Most retired public employees weren’t thinking about retirement when they started working. They just wanted a job. Those that retired shouldn’t be vilified just because the retirement system had benefits that were favorable to them. What would you have them do, quit, or tell the retirement system, “No, I don’t want that”? If there are benefits that are considered too liberal today, then fine, change them so that future hires know ahead of time what they are signing up for. Don’t castigate those who have already served.

Calhoun

March 29th, 2011
8:32 am

Hey, Dave, you say, “Dont take away what we honestly earned.” I say that every April 15, but you guys always want more.

Mr. Phillips

March 29th, 2011
8:44 am

I’m retiring from South Carolina state government in two days at age 52. I paid into the system and watched as private sector employees’ salaries went up 4 and 5% yearly while mine increased 2 to 3% if I was lucky enough for the state legislature to find the money after everything else in the budget was settled. Leave me alone to enjoy the promised fruits of my low-paid labor. I don’t want to hear any griping.

Mr. Republican

March 29th, 2011
8:52 am

Don’t judge unless you have walked in someone else’s footsteps. Both side’s have their perks and disadvantages. I know a lot of state employees who are jealous of private sector employees beause of the perks of bonuses, raises, etc while the over paid private sector and union employees are jealous of the underpaid state employees who are rewarded with perks such as a pension and leave time. I am sure there is a heartless tea party member while come up with a good solution for the well off.

JW

March 29th, 2011
8:58 am

q is spot on with her analysis of this issue. While the article references the woman’s education, there is no mention of the guy’s. So how do you compare his high school diploma, GED, or even drop-out level of education to her Masters Degree? Poor reporting to say the least. For a better analysis of the issue look at the article below the one headlined labeled “Trade Salary for Benefits” (http://www.ajc.com/news/public-employees-trade-salary-889565.html).

Dave

March 29th, 2011
9:08 am

It is only natural for people to want what they have invested and earned. Nobody I know in their right mind is asking for more for their pensions. We have no Unions. I believe most people who say “We” want more on April 15th is a knee-jerk reaction to Big Costly Government in general which is understandable. We all pay taxes too..Lets fix Government fairly-now and for the future without stereotyping everyone who works in the Public Sector as useless.

Roadrunner

March 29th, 2011
9:08 am

Its simple math, the taxpayers can’t pay enough to cover the ever increasing number of public employees who retire at 50 and draw a large percentage of their original income for another 20 – 30 years! Why do you think they keep pushing back Social Security to age 67 & beyond? Because we’re living longer and money paid into these retirement accounts can’t be stretched that far. And as far as the ‘pay difference’ between public & private, pay in the private sector has been flat or gone down over the last decade, can the public sector say that?

Engineer

March 29th, 2011
9:12 am

What a joke. A lightly-trained Border Collie could get a Master’s in education. It’s the easiest curriculum at any college (which is why it attracts so many idiots who think the rest of the world owes them a living).

The Boss

March 29th, 2011
9:13 am

All of your low salary, high retirement and great benefits were paid by me and my tax paying brothers and sisters. We can complain and demand a change if we want.

fairness for all

March 29th, 2011
9:14 am

Georgia should pay it’s debts. Many states (including ga) at some time or other cut back on their portions of retirement contributions–this worked ok while the stock market was rising but when it tanked the pension funds got into big trouble but it was the combination of those two things that led to the problem. I am a retired state of georgia worker and have a good pension, however i worked all of my 34 years at from 10 to 20% less per year (it varied over that time frame) than people in my profession made in the private sector –some of which also had pensions/401k/stock options/etc. So no–state governments should not be able to declare bankruptcy to avoid their responsibility to retirees. Newt and others who believe so apparently don’t know the full facts in the state of georgia. Georgia politicians raided the pension funds by not funding them appropriately the same way federal politicians raided social security all these years. I don’t hear newt and others saying we should allow the the USA to go bankrupt so we don’t have to pay social security though. Same difference. I do concede the fact however that all states are not the same and those states where employees made no contribution at all and received salaries + benefits much higher than private employees should not receive the same treatment as state of Georgia. There is no blanket cure and each state should be responsible for it’s debts.

khc

March 29th, 2011
9:17 am

fairly balanced reporting….private citizens outraged today because corporate america has found cheaper labor elsewhere, while most of public employees have plodded along salary wise with hope of decent pension…..so when their pay was better i don’t recall private citizens saying public employees should be making more…..reminds me of the tortoise and hare….private sector folks want heads i win tails i win……most states are considering/moving from defined benefit to defined contribution or hybrid bringing pension costs more in line with private sector…..seems the repubs are just in a race to the bottom for the the working man…lower salaries and benefits except for the exalted of their party…and the dumb masses of ga eat it up….

Paul

March 29th, 2011
9:21 am

Roadrunner is correct that this is an issue of math, not fairness. Governments are in the same position GM was in recently – the cold fact that there is simply not enough money to cover the pension obligations.

As a state employee, I have a 401k-style plan rather than a defined-benefit pension. I was given a choice of plans eleven years ago when I was hired. At times I have thought I made a poor choice, but in the long run it may be better. By the time I retire in 20 years, who knows what the state may be able or willing to pay retirees.

Sage

March 29th, 2011
9:22 am

I have a friend who went to work for the state years back. The promise: After 5 years she would be vested and would recieve a retirement of $1000 a month once she retired. That was about 80% of her salary. So that was her plan, however she did not make it to the 5 years due to medical issues that she inturn blamed on the stress of the job.

khc

March 29th, 2011
9:23 am

wonder if newt willing to give up his congressional pension?

Randall

March 29th, 2011
9:29 am

After 30 years working in state government, I am less than a year away from retirement. I work very long hours (with absolutely no over-time) and experience the risks and hazards of law enforcement duty. Even with a four-year degree from UGA and 30 years of service, I barely make $45,000 a year. Yearly step increases were cut out almost 20 years ago under Gov. Miller and since have occasionally recieved only tiny cost-of-living increases that were totally eaten up by increases in health insurance preimiums (in other words, no true salary increases in almost two decades) But I love my job and I love the people I work with, and I’ve been blessed to serve the good citizens of this state. I feel that I have earned the pension benefits that I will soon receive. I traded low pay, long hours, and hazardous work conditions for a retirement pay-off at the end of my career. In no way should I be villified for that choice by people who sleep soundly in their beds all night long without a pager and an emergency radio phone to summon them to a disaster or emergency at 2:00 in the morning.

Road Scholar

March 29th, 2011
9:36 am

fairness for all: Right on! It was 2002, Perdue’s first year that the Legislature reduced their payments into the system. Since then, they have tried everything to get their hands on the retirement fund (ie. trying to legalize higher risk of return investments- now that would have worked in todays economic times…Right!)

We took a smaller salary than the private sector. I went into State government to gain experience . I stayed because I enjoyed the work and the benefits paid down the road. I chose to “invest my time” to gain the overall rewards, not immediate gratification. Anyone taking that away because they don’t agree or won’t provide the revenue to cover their past agreements is a thief.

We also had to endure the generally low opinion of state employees from the private sector…that is until they saw we told the truth, that we would go beyond normal to help with their dilemna, and provide professional results.It is/was a kneejerk reaction by the public to dismiss the public employees as “inferior”.

Road Scholar

March 29th, 2011
9:40 am

Good response Randall. They forget that we are responsible even when they aren’t or when they are sleeping!

Mindy

March 29th, 2011
9:49 am

I’m a “government slug” (Police officer) and I contribute 9.5% of my salary annually toward my “County” pension…then I add another 7% into a deferred compensation fund (so I can travel in retirement)
…oh, and add a bit more into the Police Annuity….so I can retire after 30 years on the force with roughly 75% of my salary…which isn’t much for the services you receive. I’ve been shot at, slugged, kicked, bitten and pee’d on in my career….I think I’ve more than earned by pension….

N

March 29th, 2011
9:53 am

Interesting debate. Many in the private sector don’t make huge dollars either and have seen benefits cut. its easy to look at the few in either private or public but many struggle to maintain in both. The grass is not always greener elsewhere. Its unfortunate that all I see is whining from public employees on these forums.

At the end of the day if you fund your own retirement you have more options down the road.

State Worker

March 29th, 2011
10:02 am

I have worked for 20+ years for the State of GA. When the economy was booming, I saw all of my friends and acquantances earning many times my meager salary. I haven’t had a raise in YEARS, and my health insurance cost has tripled. Now it will increase 19% next year. Will I get a raise? No, none of us will. When we did actually get merit raises (there have been NO cost of living raises in YEARS), they were for minuscle amounts, such as 1.5%. I have been furloughed monthly for well over a year. THis roughly translated into a 5% salary cut.

The worst is all the crap we hear from folks in the media and folks in the private sector. You have no clue how hard we work, how we work with little or no supplies, how we have to use our own money for supplies, how little we are reimbursed, if we are reimbursed at all. Etc.

The stress is monumental. Everything is on a strict time frame, and we receive disciplinary action if we don’t meet stringent requirements. I am a public servant, and am proud of the hard work I do. But, I never got into this career for the money. No one does because it is paltry, at best.

If the State did not have the retirement benefits, it would not attract any good workers. Please don’t begrudge me the retirement I have worked so hard for.

Sonny Daze

March 29th, 2011
10:02 am

Newts are slimy little creatures.

A promise IS a promise. Change what is promised, if we dare, but stick by it.

It’s interesting to see that Murphy, the retired airline employee, is happily accepting the taxpayer-backed pension from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp while wanting to declare bankruptcy for the state of Georgia to bail on its promise to career employees.

Besides what governor of a AAA-bonded state is going to want the legacy of being the only governor in history to declare bankruptcy!

Thomas

March 29th, 2011
10:03 am

You have to look at the entire compensation package to decide whether the pensions are fair. I know several government employees that make far less than people in the private sector that do the exact same thing, but the gov employees get better retirement benefits. It is a trade off. Do you want more money up front, or do you sacrifice that for more at the end? If an employee has spent years making less up front money in exchange for the promise of a pension, then it is unfair to take that from them.

george

March 29th, 2011
10:03 am

I am a public employee in the Teachers Retirement System. This has been a sound, well funded and maintained system. I have been paying into it for 20 years and will work until I am at least 65 and have 30 years. Like any pension system I have been contributing a portion of my salary all these years. The last three years there have been no salary increases and my contribution to TRS has gone up. In Georgia we contribute a greater percentage to this system than most pension systems in the US. Since I have been paying my way for at least 20 years I see no reason why I should not receive this benefit in my retirement. Perhaps the rules about when you can take it should be modified. If it is not TRS then there will be some other retirement vehicle that workers can use. The real problem is some of these county retirement systems in the metro area.

Fed Employee

March 29th, 2011
10:05 am

Well, well, well – after decades of listening to my private sector friends bad-mouth government employees for their lack of initiative, I suppose the worm has turned. Some of us went into government service to serve (what a concept!). As for the retiree in the AJC article who lives in Fayetteville, I suppose the private sector is not all it was cracked up to be: three airlines that went bankrupt: Eastern, Continental, and Delta. Hmmmmmmmmm – the article goes on to say that government employees contribute a greater portion of their pay to their retirement (in addition to less pay than the private sector) and generally are better educated than private sector counterparts. Can there be a correlation there? I am stunned that the disdain my friends had for me has now turned into resentment as I complete my 35th year in public service. By the way, I do not cheat with sick leave. I did work in the private sector twice for a total of six years and have never experienced in the government sector the cronyism and nepotism that was rampant in the private sector. Seems to me that the private sector folks want their cake and eat it too, but now that times are tough, it is the fault of the government sector employees who have typically worked their entire careers for less money. Oh, gee, I forget…….my retirement is paid by you taxpayers. Well, you taxpayers also paid me a salary for years that was less than I deserved. I consciously rejected the higher salaries of the private sector for the lesser government salary thru the years……..AS MY WIFE SAID THIS MORNING, ALL THE HARES ARE SURPRISED THAT THE TORTOISE IS WINNING. I think the folks who are complaining need to think it thru a tad more.

Blue Georgia Voter

March 29th, 2011
10:05 am

Georgia, do not complain. You voted to turn the whole state RED. You got exactly what you voted for!!

Susan Pajari

March 29th, 2011
10:07 am

Georgia citizens do not under stand how the Georgia state pensions system works. Georgia public employees pay a percentage of their salaries into the retirement system along with the state’s payment. When employees retire, their pension is based on a formula that takes into account the number of years they worked and other factors. These pensions are protected by the state constitution. Pensions come from retirement funds, invested in diversified sources, which are separate from state funds.

My understanding is that Georgia’s retirement systems have a much higher funding ratio than many other states. Retirees who receive these funds, many in their 70s and 80s, do not have the option of returning to work if pension funds are cut. Few companies will hire older workers and many have major health issues. My husband and I are grateful that we receive pensions from the State of Georgia.

N

March 29th, 2011
10:10 am

I work in the private sector and have seen one small raise in the last 3+ years. We have employees with us who haven’t seen pay raises in as many as 13 years — Its not just the public sector.

Pensions sound good in theory but I’d rather have control of my money and be able to take it with me and not forced to say for a pension if later on I want to change jobs or companies.

Truthpaste

March 29th, 2011
10:19 am

“Leave me alone to enjoy the promised fruits of my low-paid labor. I don’t want to hear any griping.”

“AS MY WIFE SAID THIS MORNING, ALL THE HARES ARE SURPRISED THAT THE TORTOISE IS WINNING. I think the folks who are complaining need to think it thru a tad more.”

Government workers are now on the chopping block and the above sentiments are the type of elitist and entitled attitudes we hear. You are your own worst enemy with comments like these, taxpayers and voters are listening to your crying and not feeling one bit of sympathy. Sounds like government employees know they come out on bottom regardless of the nasty attitudes displayed. Go down with a fight, because you have lost!

Rancid meat

March 29th, 2011
10:23 am

Who in the real world retires in their mid-50’s??? Come on people!

N

March 29th, 2011
10:26 am

Many retire in their mid 50’s by choice or not. I know two recently who did — both by layoff but both are happy about it because they planned by saving over the years. A reminder for all of us to save at least 10-15%.

money gone

March 29th, 2011
10:26 am

Pensions need to be converted to 401k type plans–the cities / states are broke and can’t afford to guarantee lifetime returns for government workers. Govt workers should have to take the same risks as everyone else in the market–very simple. The party’s over.

hryder

March 29th, 2011
10:32 am

Self interest , many would say greed, is what motivates most of the retirement funding discussion. I do know that once again the baby boomer generation is conducting themselves as spoiled brats. Note that I am making observations. None of us had any choice of when we were born. Choice is the point. I and my wife are a few years older than the boomers and have five college degrees between us. This is what I know. I was consciously aware that I could work in the public or private sector and the basic arguements of low/high- pay/retirement and supposed benefits versus negatives of each general view from my Depression raised parents and high school civics-economics class as well as job interviewing when completing the BA degree. I chose public sector because I, and then we, did not desire to just work. But I did just work, part time jobs related to my expertise to add monies so our total income was near that of private sector employees. We knew we had the state retirement but also put away more in tax deferred accounts and also believed that I would have Social Security since I paid into that on my part time employment. Jealous individuals raised Cain about that years prior to my retirement and that was cut in half due to what has been labeled ,”illegitimate double dipping”. Most people in the private sector my age and older with similar circumstances took care of their retirement with SS and investing. What has come about with the boomers is that most of their generation employed in the private sector(highest % of employees) spent as much or more than they earned and are finding the well dry for their anticipated retirement. Thus, the usual brat reaction of lashing out at everyone else when the lack of discipline to save and instead opting for immediate gratification on their part is to blame. So, at the anticipated expected beginning of retirement the brat baby boomers have finally realized that ultimately, life is not and cannot be all wine and roses, or even more bluntly, “There is no free lunch.”.

Truth

March 29th, 2011
10:43 am

If you think Georgia is having trouble attracting qualified teachers now…just wait. Continue to furlough days, add more duties/responsbilities, tie salary to students’ test scores, and cut/eliminate pension plans…..Yep – we will have NO problem ranking 50th when it comes to student achievement! Hats off Georgia!

Arguing Over Wrong Issue

March 29th, 2011
10:43 am

People, we should not be arguing about whether public employees deserve their pensions or who sacrificed the most or many of the other things that are being fussed about here, but the real issue here is that our local, state, and federal governments have mismanaged the money that has been entrusted to them by their citizens. If government would do a better job about managing our resources, then maybe just maybe there might be enough money to fund pension plans, stop furloughs, etc… We need to demand more accountability from our elected leaders and stop fighting amongst ourselves. These politicians are laughing it up when they consider that we are not challenging them on the real issues here, but rather find ourselves ripping each other apart over issues that they have created. Let’s get it together people and stop the infighting and demand real change from those elected to represent us!!

Public Worker

March 29th, 2011
10:51 am

It’s funny how so many have such disdain for public sector employees. We’re better educated and chose public service over private companies. You all chose the higher pay, while I chose the future pension benefits. Don’t get mad at me because I made a more informed decision. Just as your taxes pay my salary and benefits, my discretionary spending pays your salary. If I don’t spend money for the services your company provides, you’ll be out of a job.

Instead of getting upset with me, focus your anger at the CEOs who are getting raises while you get a pink slip. I thought conservatism was about being responsible for your actions. Freezing my pension, which is a contractual obligation, is jot taking responsibility. Just as you may think you’re my boss because you pay taxes, I’m your boss as a consumer.

Mitchell

March 29th, 2011
11:05 am

So because politicians bought your votes with pension promises they couldn’t keep, knowing they’d be gone when the bill was due, that was just tough luck for the people who get the bill?

And you wonder why the real world looks down on you.

realtalk

March 29th, 2011
11:06 am

You know who I think is greedy? People who make over $150k in this state and complain about paying the INCREDIBLY LOW tax rate of 6%! THAT is why the money is gone, not because of gov’t workers who are lucky to make $40k a year. But to all of you workers out there who are tired of being scapegoated by the rich who think that YOU should pay for the crisis (when you can barely cover your cost of living), come out and fight back with Jobs With Justice on April 4th in Atlanta! Madison, WI showed us how to fight back against cuts to your pensions and scapegoating with 150k people in the streets!

Dawg

March 29th, 2011
11:07 am

You public workers make me sick. Who do you think you’re kidding? You make way more than your counterparts in the private sector, get ungodly days off work, put in 40 hrs/week max, and retire on defined benefit pensions. You slugs deserve none of it.

teacher

March 29th, 2011
11:07 am

I am no govt slug miller. I was forced to pay into both TRS and SSN. I would rather save my money and invest it myself.

Hmm...

March 29th, 2011
11:10 am

Goobers, goobers , goobers…

I am technically a product of the lousy Ga edu system… it sucks. Education stopped when public school started. No pension from my pockets whatsoever; not one cent. There is currently a video of the head of the teacher’s union stating that it is not about kids at all. He even states that it is not about the kids, it is about money and power. Hundreds of teachers present when he makes this statement, and all applaud wildly.

About 8 years ago when Jawja resumed its unseemly descent back into total darkness, the teachers were going to be held at least somewhat accountable and they and the flaggers succeeded in turning Roy Barnes out of office on this issue and the Rabble Flag. They, and everyone who voted for Sonny boy, took a diarrhea dump on Jawja’s future and the innocent faces of young children. More damage waas and is done than any pedophiles will ever do, yet there are no real consequences or even guilt. What’s up with that?

clark kent

March 29th, 2011
11:11 am

Public Worker, you are everything that is wrong with this country and an embarrassment to everyone who has ever served and died for it.

max deal

March 29th, 2011
11:13 am

lazy government workers want obscene, guaranteed pensions for retiring in their 50s? Get real and wake up—governments are flat broke and can’t pay these “benefits” any more.

clark kent

March 29th, 2011
11:16 am

realtalk, what type of fantasy land are you living in that you can dictate who is rich or how much taxes someone can pay, let alone propagate class warefare?

I thought everyone was created equal; or are you suggesting that some are created more equal than others?

realtalk

March 29th, 2011
11:21 am

no I am “propagating class warfare” because you people, who want to cut pensions and scapegoat workers for a crisis that could be resolved by simply raising the income tax, are already beginning the class war. You don’t want to pay your share in taxes so instead you call for other people to suffer! Stop being so greedy, we are tired of it!