Don’t begrudge pensions for public employees

I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of dumping on government employees, which notion corporate funded “grassroots” organizations, anti-tax institutes and conservative writers have drummed into our ears. It is an admitted push to “privatize” civic services, so business can grab even a larger portion of our tax dollars.

I do admire the convoluted logic. That our local and state governments haven’t collapsed due to the many positions unfilled to save money is declared proof that state and municipalities were overstaffed (ignoring the valiant efforts of the remaining employees to fulfill duties above and beyond their job descriptions), while the inevitable service lapses caused by such undermaning are cited as proof of governmental incompetence.

The bandwagon drivers disingenuously say that since government services are offered equally to everyone, the benefits are thus equal. Sure, all residents benefit from free education and libraries, and the less-than-wealthy may benefit more from public hospitals and other social programs.

However, fire and police services, although benefiting all, give most value to businesses and homeowners (and their insurers, mortgage companies and real estate brokers) who have significant assets to protect from fire, crime and disorder, and much less to renters and wage earners.

The civil courts provide dispute resolution services virtually for free for litigants with sufficiently valuable disputes. Beyond costs for employees, governments spend massive amounts on infrastructure and service contracts, which indeed provide employment for many, but also significant profit for a few.

The privatizers contend that private enterprise could perform state and municipal services at lower cost. How? Government salaries are already less than private sector pay for similar jobs and qualifications.

This brings us to the crux. The big bugaboo for the government employee bashers is pensions, particularly the “unfunded liabilities,” or pensions whose future costs are not currently fully covered.

Yup, the small percentage of our population with no worry about retirement is apoplectic that some working stiffs might actually obtain a comfortable life in their old age. Privatizing would take care of that, and also eviscerate the unions, about the only formal groups left who go to bat for common citizens.

Admittedly, there is a problem with catching up on pensions after the losses of the greed-induced recession of earlier this century. Usually unmentioned in the bandwagon’s diatribes is that significant reforms were enacted in Hawaii in 2011 and 2012, which increased both government and employee contributions, lowered pensions for new employees, delayed vesting, and stopped pension spiking through overtime, bonuses and allowances.

A disproportionate portion of the current shortfall is due to police and fire employees, whose pensions cost about 50 percent more than other government employees, reflecting not only the nature of their work, but the strong support from conservatives for generous uniformed personnel retirements (which, in turn, reflects an understanding of the value provided to them).

The teachers and Kauai County employees whom I know are incredibly hard-working, dedicated to their professions and have an overt mission to help the county residents. I doubt their attitude could be shared by any “privatized” entity. Assuring these employees a decent retirement after several decades working for us seems a highly appropriate civic goal.

Like that guy in Tiananmen Square, we should stand up to those conservative think-tanks. Let’s support our public employees.

•••

Jed Somit is a resident of Kapaa.

6 Comments
  1. MisterM November 28, 2018 6:21 am Reply

    This article is beyond delusional. The average “public servant” wouldn’t last 5 minutes in the real world. Go into any govt office and see how much work actually gets done. Sea of empty desks with many out on “disability” or just plain too lazy to bother to work with everyone covering up for each other. That these bloodsucking leeches then have outrageously generous pensions is obscene. I’ll enjoy a hearty laugh when the public wises up and drastically cuts their obscene pensions and these leeches have to get real jobs.


  2. Pete Antonson November 28, 2018 2:15 pm Reply

    In the past 50 years, I have worked 3 professional careers across the Federal, State, and County public sector levels as well as in the private high tech sector of Silicon Valley and it’s nearby, related private industries. I also have hired and fired high and low paid private sector workers and supervised a range of public employees.
    You sir, haven’t even the slightest idea what you are talking about. In the years since the 60’s, true slackers are very hard to find. When people possessing bags full of ideological cliches like your’s do find one, it becomes like the legendary “women driver” that cuts you off. While you are roaring “See what I mean!” you ignore the next 5 male drivers who do the same thing.


  3. Ginger Doll November 29, 2018 3:47 am Reply

    Empty desks can be seen as one of two things. Staff cutbacks or public servants out doing their jobs, serving the public.
    Privatization of public services means lower salaries and benefits but not lower cost. The private companies and corporations reap handsome profits from the public sector while neglecting maintenance of assets placed under their control.
    Once the private sector seizes control, it works overtime convincing public officials to undertake projects that bring them the most profits.


  4. harry oyama November 30, 2018 4:23 am Reply

    I’ve worked with these useless GS employees for over 10 years while assigned as a Reservist and did more work then three of them combined! There is no accountability for these slackers and when they do messed up, usually they are just reasigned to another department and be a problem for that section.

    There was one particular GS11 female who is so incompetent that I was assigned to finish her projects that she abandoned for two years and got the job done in a few months.

    The same goes for the State lazy workers, while a student at UH Manoa I was assigned as a technical assistant to a research facility and ended up doing the work for that useless full time State employee. He was never around and only showed up on Fridays because the director came in that day to lecture his students. They do not deserve any pension.


    1. Pete Antonson November 30, 2018 1:26 pm Reply

      And you have demonstrated over the course of the year that you don’t deserve to be listened to as one more so called “patriot” who “loves his country;” but, hates 83% of the people living in it!


    2. Pete Antonson November 30, 2018 1:33 pm Reply

      BTW, Harry the Competent One, your short comment contains seven spelling and grammar errors!


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