Should Georgia’s pension secrecy be changed?

Should the law change?

Taxpayers pour about $1.3 billion into state pensions each year, AJC reporter James Salzer writes. But retirement system officials can’t tell you how much individual retirees are getting.

That’s because state law prohibits the Teachers Retirement System and Employees’ Retirement System from disclosing the pensions received by the 125,000 retired teachers, university staffers, state workers, judges and lawmakers receiving benefits from the plans, Salzer writes.

What do you think? On the one hand, the people paying the bills ought to have a right to know? On the other hand, the people receiving pensions are private citizens when they collect the benefit.

What do you think of a compromise idea — should there be disclosure when a pension reaches a certain amount? If so, what amount? Or should it be all or nothing?

- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat

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106 comments Add your comment

Blitz Wolfer

April 4th, 2011
7:35 am

Yes, all pensions of state employees should be made available to their employer, which are the citizens of Georgia.

Enough is enough of this B.S. – Everyone knows that if you are a government employee, that you are over-compensated.

Teachers Get No Respect

April 4th, 2011
7:52 am

I wouldn’t mind teacher’s retirements being made public, all you teacher bashers could see how pitiful it is. Most folks on pensions also have part time jobs to get by. The government employees who are overcompensated are all your Republican/Democrat friends in the Gold Dome.

Thomas Gissy

April 4th, 2011
7:55 am

It is the wit and wisdom of towering intellectuals such as Blitz that has gotten this country in to the sad state that it is in. I am a retired State Employee and I retired under the 34 and out provisions that were available to me, which I earned. When I retired my unit had two vacant positions that I could not fill with anyone with a college degree as the starting pay was only $22,500 a year.

Furthermore, member of the ERS contributed over 5 percent of their gross pretax pay into the system. I do not feel that I was over paid. After retirement I went to work in the privet sector making over 3 times my state salary.

Terry

April 4th, 2011
8:03 am

I am a state employee and I have no problem with retirement salaries being subject to the Open Records Act. The salaries while the employee is working is available to the public.

I do think it is a shame there are people like “Blizt Wolfer” that make such broad and negative statements without regard to the majority of state workers that are dedicated and hard working.

If you have a problem with the Open Records Act exemptions, contact your representatives and have the related laws changed. The Legislature writes the laws not the average state employee. Additionallyly average state employee does not have a salary that will qualify for the described retirement incomes. Most of those will be associated with universities, medical personnel, and possibly CEO individuals – much like in the public employment world.

Craig

April 4th, 2011
8:07 am

No every state employee gets the dollar amounts quoted in this article. I retired after 30 years, my pension is $13,659 a YEAR. There are more retired state employees with pensions like mine than the few noted in this article.

Pinky Lee

April 4th, 2011
8:11 am

Atlas

April 4th, 2011
8:15 am

The crushing burden on the private sector taxpayers to continue paying for government employee pensions and perks (let’s not forget about medical insurance and any other perks that haven’t been brought to light) is not sustainable. Period. Another enlightening graph in yesterday’s AJC showed the total number of jobs lost, jobs lost in construction, and the rise in unemployment. The only area of Georgia’s economy that gained jobs, was government! It makes no sense.

My small company has had to cut way back on employees and benefits to stay alive. I expect government entities to do the same.

Mid GA Retiree

April 4th, 2011
8:18 am

The vast majority of government retirees didn’t take employment with the government because of the benefits. Most just wanted a job. They were young and just wanted to work. In many cases, the benefits only became clearly apparent to them in their later working years. I imagine that most of those who have retired wouldn’t mind their pensions being known except for the fact that they will be lumped together with the few who are drawing the six figure pensions and castigated for it. These public servants don’t deserve that.

Bobby

April 4th, 2011
8:35 am

Since retirement benefits to State employees are paid by Georgia taxpayers, they are NOT private citizens when they retire. Any State pension should fall under the open records act.

Sonny Daze

April 4th, 2011
8:41 am

Mr. Unger, Surely there are more important issues to write about than this?!

FYI: I just heard on WSB Radio, part of the Cox empire, that the AJC is receiving a bundled of federal funds to help them pay for early retiree benefits. So does this mean that Open Records now applies to the AJC? Why don’t you publish your compensation since one could say that you receive public funds indirectly?

Truth

April 4th, 2011
8:43 am

Mid GA Retiree:
Interesting the use of the words “Public Servant” when referring to government workers but you state “They were young and just wanted to work” and nothing about being a servant.
I guess then I am a “Private Sector Servant” because I was young and just wanted to work.

Bone

April 4th, 2011
8:44 am

Henry and the others that post here, Will you please post your pension amounts from the AJC and any other source of revenue you will get a pension from? NO? Then don’t ask others, either from a public or private source, to have their pensions posted. It’s nobody’s business.

The article states 1,100 out of 125,000 drawing a pension from the state pulls $100K/year. Do the math…that’s 0.009% that gets that amount. Show me a private company not doing the same or worst.

Construction jobs were lost due to over-building, due to people getting loans they could not afford…due to the government stating banks could not discriminate against anyone getting a loan. Don’t blame teachers for that.

No Respect…Good observation.

GDOT

April 4th, 2011
8:44 am

Wouldn’t everyone be happy to hear about all the ex-GDOT employees who received pensions as high as 90% of their retirement pay, not to mention raises every year for cost of living. Some of them make more now than they did when they were working.

Truth

April 4th, 2011
8:45 am

I “Private Sector Servants” should be given a pension because my “Evil” companies don’t provide one.
I have even had a “Pay Cut” in my employment. I mention this because I love the arguement from the “Public Servants” about not receiving raises.

oldtimer

April 4th, 2011
8:46 am

Look at the retirement of classroom teachers…They get nowhere near what is printed in this article. Also school systems withdrew from Social Security before I started there. Even though I have many years in from other places I will not be able to have any…

joe

April 4th, 2011
8:54 am

I don’t get any taxpayer funds slated for my retirement, so why should they benefit from my part of the tax pie? End all entitlements now.

TnGelding

April 4th, 2011
8:55 am

The pensions are what need to be changed, and apparently have been. Let the folks that took advantage of the system alone and allow them to live their retirements in peace and quiet. We might have to start taxing them, though.

Call it like it is

April 4th, 2011
9:08 am

Its the same in the private sector. When I hired on with a Berkshire company, I was told I was the last group in to get a pension if I stayed with the company thru retirement. The writing was on the wall, even with a Warren Buffett company, pension plans are in the past. Companies and Tax-Payers cant continue to support it. My company is now doing the 401k and its up to you to take of yourself and not count on outside sources.

C

April 4th, 2011
9:09 am

Many of you are forgetting these are the same people who have served your interest for over 30 years and that they are also taxpayers. So please don’t react like you are the only ones who paid for it they paid for their own retirements through taxes and their retirement plan. If you are so interested let’s also make public the pensions of the private sector that got them before they were phased out by companies. Stop being bitter just because we live in a different time and we are not able to get the same things. Leave them in peace.

Low-Paid State Employee

April 4th, 2011
9:13 am

I could be making at least 30% more in the private sector doing what I do for the State, which is uncover fraud. You don’t like your tax dollars going to my salary and benefits? Well, I don’t like my underpaid salary going toward multi-million dollar bonuses for oil company executives but I don’t have a choice and I don’t hear any complaints about that. You don’t like it because I have a job with a pension and you don’t? Then increase my pay to the level I would make in the private sector. A private sector company could charge more for whatever they provide to a willing public and you would pay for it without complaining. And speaking of wasting money – think about it next time you go out to a Braves game and watch overpaid athletes. You don’t complain about their salaries when you fork over the money for tickets and over-priced hotdogs. I worked two jobs for six years so I could come up with a downpayment on a house. I would have loved to have played softball without getting paid but I didn’t have time. I’ve got no sympathy for them or any other professional athletes – and I’ve only been to one Braves game since the strike in 1996 and that was because somebody else bought the ticket. And when I retire, I will get less than $35,000 per year. I’ll be working until I’m 80 just to make ends meet. If the people of Georgia really understood the value they get for the services the government provides in terms of education, health, and safety, then they wouldn’t complain a bit.

Southside Shawty

April 4th, 2011
9:24 am

When did a pension become an entitlement? Especially when it is something that you’ve paid into for 30 years?

Another Gov Employee

April 4th, 2011
9:25 am

If this information is made public, what in the HE!! can the “public” do with this information?!?! Even though people have paid in their retirement plans can Georgia’s citizens with misplaced anger now cancel these benefits?

Starting in 2009, the State no longer offered Pension benefits that are being discussed in this article. What’s the fixation on examining the retirement salaries of people that have served their fellow citizens for 30+ years?

State Employees-who needs them

April 4th, 2011
9:27 am

If you look and I mean really research the 1,100 that receive over 100,000. in retirement;you would see that the majority were political appointments to positions by your past governors or local legislators.The average state retirement is 28,000.per year and the teachers around 35,000. per year.When you consider that they paid 5% of their salary each month for 30 years into an investment program,that is not out of line. The Gold Dome boys do not want you to see the 1,100 making over 100,000.,because it will show the favoritism that was shown to a few employees for political reasons. It has gone on for years and will continue when you have politics running state government. Even today salaries of state employees making over 100,000. per year are the majority of political appointments. Just check all the appointments by Governor Deal in the last three months and you will see what and where the high cost of personnel comes from. These are not your average state employee.

Low-Paid State Employee

April 4th, 2011
9:31 am

It’s not our parents’ world any longer. Used to be, people went to work for a company and stayed there for 20-30-40 years, maybe more. And they drew a pension and nobody complained. But because it’s so-called “tax dollars”, they think they have a right to. Don’t they realize that they were paying for people’s pensions in the prices they’ve paid for these products and services from the private sector over the years? Do they really think that the company donated all of that money? No, the company charged enough for their products and services to cover their employees’ pensions. Maybe our high schools should teach a course in Economics.

frugalteacher

April 4th, 2011
9:39 am

I am a retired teacher. I paid (and continue to pay) state and federal income taxes for over three decades in amounts that far exceeded any retirement contribution paid on my behalf by the state and which supported (and continue to support) the retirements of people from the private sector through Social Security. My system withdrew from Social Security before I was hired. I paid for my own advanced degrees while my private sector friends received free tuition as a perk. I spent my own money to buy things for my classroom and worked uncompensated overtime every week for thirty plus years. As a new teacher in the late 70’s, I remember how ashamed I felt at how low my salary was in comparison to the other young women who were my friends, one working at a bank, another for a large utility company. They made twice my salary for years and years and their benefits and expense accounts were unbelievable. Now, I can barely get by on my retirement check each month, especially with all the taxes that still go to the state and federal governments. I am frugal but I am happy, and if starting over would again choose to dedicate my life to helping children grow. The real retirement benefit for me is knowing that I did something to help others every day of my life. You can’t buy that!

khc

April 4th, 2011
9:40 am

state salaries already public…..if private sector folks want to know what pension is then do the math….the formula is published for both ERS and TRS……only few candidates remain for older sweeter pensions….just like private sector. only folks who make big bucks in retirement are agency upper echelon, regents admin and some professors like medical doctors.

the lucrative benefits of past (34 & out, invol sep, etc) have been discontinued. note those lucrative benefits were to offset lower wages and political retribution. public just po’d because many chose private sector employment because public sector did not pay…..now possibly shoe on other foot. sounds like sour grapes.

let’s publish everyone’s pension (social security and other….especially all the golden parachutes for the corporate elite. when i decide which product to buy, i think i want to know who gets what too, so those companies that too richly reward their employees i might have problem with

race to the bottom

JIMBOB (aka James Robert)

April 4th, 2011
9:55 am

like prior poster said: the salaries are already public. There’s no great mystery to any of this.

Is there *anyone* that goes into government work to get rich?? People would be wise to focus on their own careers instead of stewing over the pensions of others.

jdawg

April 4th, 2011
10:01 am

If it was all state paid then open it up, teachers have been paying almost 6% since they began teaching and I feel that that amount is their business. Anyone could look at the pay and figure out how many years a teacher has and come near. So, really what is the big deal. This bill is not for the average teacher, who cares. It is for the big shots that get a big salary the last couple of years. I am completely against this, since the person did contribute. Does that mean everybody in the world needs to know….

Red

April 4th, 2011
10:03 am

I worked for 34 years for my state retirement. It isn’t much, but I appreciate it. I think it is funny that all these bashers are jealous. However, when they see the salaries, they are going to eat their words. Most state retirees are barely getting by. The only thing they have that is a “perk” is their health insurance, and many will not be able to afford that come next year, when it goes up. Many work jobs in retirement to get by. Why bash us? We worked for what we have and we didn’t make the rules. As consumers, we help pay the salaries of everyone who produces something. We pay outrageous prices for gas, but no one is foaming at the mouth to see the salary of the cashier at the gas station.

True Trans

April 4th, 2011
10:05 am

Common on America, we need to stop fighting and arguing amongst ourselves. We need to sit down with real facts and real numbers and work on solutions. Does anyone really want to reduce teachers salaries or make firemen poor? No. Does anyone out there want to have their salaries reduced? No. I suggest we stop going after the working man and women; and start going after the non working individuals and wasteful government spending. When times are tough, which they are; drastic cuts need to be made until a growth surge can occur. If people and businesses can start producing big profits, then the states will be able to collect more money. My suggestion is that we get everyone back to work, no more entitlements and free rides. Random drug testing for anyone receiving unemployment checks and medicaid.

Low-Paid State Employee

April 4th, 2011
10:06 am

To frugalteacher: My father was a college professor for 28 years and he did the same thing. There were many nights when he would be up until 1:00 in the morning grading papers, and reading, and preparing lectures. He did it because he loved teaching and he wanted to make a difference in the lives of his students. And when he retired, a lot of those students came back to thank him for what he had done for them. I love the bumper sticker, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”

To all: State employees are dedicated, hard-working people who genuinely care about the State of Georgia and the citizens of this State. We strive to do the best job we can, often under crippling budget constraints. My supervisor and I each put in close to 60 hours per week, some of that late into the night and on Saturday and Sunday, like I was doing yesterday. (And by the way, I’m not working today, so I’m not doing this on State time. I’m on sick leave because of the pollen.) The State has changed its retirement program, so you don’t have to worry about it any longer. I just hope the State can hire and retain the caliber of workers that some of us long-timers are considering the low pay State workers get.

Lowly teacher

April 4th, 2011
10:15 am

Why is it so hard for people to see the answers to these questions? 1. Cap the amount of a pension that is payable to a retiree. 2. Exempt certain high level political appointments from the pension system — Legislators get NO PENSIONS. 3. Governors gets NO PENSIONS.

I remember in the last few months that TRS had paid several employees over $300K. These folks managed the investment portfolios for the system. Paying these high rates in effect was much cheaper than having then can earn or make certain managed by private investment bankers. I have no problems with their salaries, if this really did save money. However, if these guys are such geniuses at investment, then they could manage their own 401K’s. These high salaried jobs SHOULD NOT be eligible for pensions. The pension system was set up for the average worker, teacher, etc. and not the fatcats.

If you do not want to create a maximum pension amount, then you exempt some of these positions by making them ineligible for the pension system.

A retiree who has paid into this system should not have their pension public, but you can provide exception reports showing how many are making large incomes.

However, none of this will happen because government does not equal common sense. Government is now a combat zone between the loonies on the left and the wackos on the right. None of these groups can find a middle ground common sense approach to our problems.

The University Phantom

April 4th, 2011
10:16 am

to understand the issue, you need to know some accounting and actuarial principles. As long as a state employee is working, his/her salary and benefits (including employer retirement contribs) are a matter of public record as they are paid. The employee contributes a portion of their salary as well, and the monthly amounts are annuitized using actuarial tables to fund the future pension of said employee.

An employee retires, and typically the employer and employee contribution is exhausted within the first three years of retirement. Future payments are interest and dividends earned on the annuitized contributions, and thus represent no further outlay of state dollars.

So, it would be entirely misleading to publish a book or website of retired employees from the State of Georgia, and for the amounts therein to be presented as an outlay of state funds.

The State funds were expended while the employee was working-and that’s already public record. Amounts paid to retirees are not, and should be maintained as private. To make them public is not just an invasion of privacy, it’s entirely misleading to the person who doesn’t (or refuses) to understand basic fund accounting and actuarial principles.

say what?

April 4th, 2011
10:22 am

Why print an article about excessive retirements when the retirement plans have drastically changed? Perhaps the ajc is attempting to create some public outcryin order to sell more papers. No story here, sadly the ajc missed an opportunity to compare old plan (34 and retire), new plan (after 1982), and the no plan(no defined contributions, only a 401K) employees. Then connect the story of the retirees with the story from last year about the states explanation for having plan managers making nearly half a million salaries to get the best bang for the buck for retirees. If the retirement system is a bust as the AJC is inferring, then why do we have these plan managers with golden parachutes and stellar salaries?
Everyone wants to beat the heck out of public servants, and the AJC is leading the charge by creating stories that do not tell the real story of your “Average” retiree from ERS and TRS.
Where is the story on the PERS retirees of the state of GA? That is a dismal shame $20 per year per month retirements. If a PERS elibigle employee works 30 years, then their monthly retirement is $600 per month with no SS (if the employer opted out of SSA). Will your open records request cover these and show that the retirement system aint what the AJC would like it to seem.

As others have stated, these employees have paid into the system with the mandatory deduction AND as taxpayers. NOw what?

AARP Privacy Advocate

April 4th, 2011
10:26 am

Retirees are often the victim of financial scams. If retiree information is made public, then all of their information is released. Please consider the retirees in their 80s who would then have their address, age, name and financial income made public. This is more a protection of the elderly than a secrecy matter.

do it

April 4th, 2011
10:27 am

Absolutely. This should not be kept secret.

scramble or remove certain data

April 4th, 2011
10:30 am

I think it should be public data, as long as personal identifiers are removed or scrambled. The public has a right to know how much its pensioners are receiving.

1911A1

April 4th, 2011
10:31 am

Simple: Publish the digest by job title and omit individual names.

Mid Ga Retiree

April 4th, 2011
10:36 am

Truth
Young people just wanting a job who stay for 30 plus years, doing the best they can, are indeed public servants!!!!!!!!

Bubba

April 4th, 2011
10:39 am

Any doubt as to why they want this to be a “secret” ?

LOL

get in the real world

April 4th, 2011
10:40 am

http://www.open.georgia.gov/sta/search.aud
enough about educators being underpaid. add their salary with summers off, christmas break, spring break, pension, its more than enough.

Lowly teacher

April 4th, 2011
10:48 am

teachers are NOT PAID for the summer break, christmas break, or any other break.

MrLiberty

April 4th, 2011
10:50 am

Every penny paid to government employees must be STOLEN from the productive citizens first. As the victims of this perpetual crime, we have a right to know who the recipients of these stolen monies are and how much each has benefitted from the theft. THEY seem to have no moral problems with their position in receipt of stolen monies.

oldtimer

April 4th, 2011
10:56 am

State employees…including teachers paid from their pretax income every year they worked for their pension. No one gave us…including teachers ….anything. The teacher retirement system is also in good shape fiscally. It has been well managed. The state does not manage it…retired teachers do. It is not an entitlement..We paid for it ourselves!

mr liberty is a (tea bagger)

April 4th, 2011
10:58 am

I guarantee it…

JOYCE

April 4th, 2011
11:00 am

LEAVE IT PRIVATE. Usually these people are elderly (or will be soon) and there are crooks here and in other countries waiting to prey on the defenseless. Let’s allow our citizens a little bit of privacy and dignity – that’s about all we have left. If they worked all their lives at whatever career, they have earned it most of the time.

Low-Paid State Employee

April 4th, 2011
11:01 am

University Phantom knows his/her stuff!! And say what? is exactly right. All the AJC (and Channel 2, who also likes to bash state employees) wants is to sell ads. When I took journalism in college, we were told to report the news, not to editorialize. We were taught to investigate the facts before reporting them and to make sure we had them right. We were taught to report both sides of an issue. Obviously, they don’t teach that any more.

Low-Paid State Employee

April 4th, 2011
11:04 am

Mr Liberty is not a “tea bagger” – he sounds more like a Communist! He would probably say that our salaries are “stolen”, too. Hey – Mr. Liberty – who do you work for? I need to know so I won’t buy anything related to that company because you are stealing my money.

Greg S.

April 4th, 2011
11:06 am

There is absolutely no question about whether state pension transparency. It is an absolute MUST!!! Lawmakers have always wanted to hide what they do with OUR money. Mostly because of all the crooked and shady deals in which they participate. It is high time the people began to take back this country from those that consider themselves entitled to our wealth and vote out those that have shown themselves to be disinterested in the welfare of the people.

oldtimer

April 4th, 2011
11:15 am

Teachers are paid to work 190 days a year. When I taught Summer School I was paid my wage for the time I worked. The last year I worked, I spent 5 days of the Christmas vacation, on my own time with no compensation, to work with 7 low readers whose parents actually volunteered to bring them. There were several of us who did this.
I also continue to pay taxes of all kinds…..I also worked 60 -70 hours a week at my job, like many professionals. I love teaching. I loved Middle School kids…but, with all the hate here I am glad I only work as a volunteer in a local school.