USA Today published an editorial today headlined, “Rein in reckless public pensions.” Actually, for the sake of workers and an economy that works for working people, the message should be: Rein in reckless editorial writers, and the one-percenters for whom they are fronting.
Today’s editorial is the latest entry in the race to punish public workers for, um, working for the public, and in the process successfully fighting to retain some of the benefits of work that used to be broadly available to private-sector as well as public-sector workers.
Its message, directed especially to Democratic politicians, is that if they don’t put the axe to “unaffordable sweetheart deals” intended to allow public sector workers to retire with a sense of dignity, then the public will continue to elect Republicans, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who will.
“Fueling taxpayers’ anger is that they are financing benefits no longer available to most private-sector workers,” the editorial says. The problem is, elites like the editorial writers at USA Today would just as soon throw another log of resentment on the fire, rather than suggest that maybe, just maybe, the real issue is that more private-sector workers should get the kind of retirement security that public-sector workers have, and would if it were not for the decades-long assault on worker rights and prosperity waged by conservative policy-makers and their corporate backers.
Fortunately, USA Today asked David Sirota, the author of the Institute for America’s Future report, “The Plot Against Pensions,” to present the opposing view – and Sirota hammers home the real issues.
“States do confront a $757 billion pension funding gap. But this gap was created mostly by losses associated with the 2008 Wall Street collapse, not by unsustainable benefits,” Sirota writes, adding that the dollar figure represents a 30-year gap – manageable on an annual basis without the radical changes in the benefits public workers receive being demanded by mostly Republican lawmakers.
Sirota’s rebuttal notes that the funding gap pales in comparison to the subsidies that the states with large public pension gaps are awarding to corporations – tax breaks that more often than not don’t bring the states that award them any benefit in job-creation and economic growth that justifies the cost.
The Plot Against Pensions report adds that the changes being orchestrated in many states in the name of “reforming” pensions end up not saving taxpayer dollars at all – they simply turn public pensions into a profit center for Wall Street financiers who can milk the pensions for fees while public employees themselves make do with less.
“Public-sector workers are not leeches,” Sirota writes. “They are firefighters, police officers and teachers who negotiated agreements to defer some compensation until retirement. Reneging on retirement promises to them in order to help politicians protect wealthy corporations is immoral.”
You would think that a publication that calls itself “the nation’s newspaper” would show a modicum of regard for the public workers who labor on our behalf. But, then again, USA Today’s parent company is Gannett Inc., a leader in the Wall Street oligarch credo of profits over people. It, like many corporations, may end up bankrupt before realizing that you cannot forever side with the forces that erode the economic security of working people without eventually destroying the foundation of your own prosperity.