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Taxpayer uprising the only answer

Published: Sun, January 10, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

By Bertram de Souza

How can you tell a retired public employee from a private sector retiree? The man laughing all the way to the bank is from the ranks of the bloodsuckers. The man working as a greeter in one of those large box stores had his blood sucked — by those in government and other public entities.

Too harsh an assessment? No more so than the reality that is the public pension system. Whether PERS, STRS, police or firefighters retirement plans, the bottom line is the same: There is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that is replenished by public dollars. And as the statewide survey of the state’s public pension funds conducted by the Ohio Newspaper Organization revealed (several stories were published last Sunday in The Vindicator), the cost to local governments in the state is $4.1 billion a year. The costs will grow by $604 million to $768 million over the next five years.

But the study also revealed a truth that has been expressed in this space for many years: We’re stuck with the system because those who have the power to change it have neither the desire nor the motivation to do so. Indeed, members of the General Assembly in Columbus are beneficiaries of the public pension system. So, they aren’t willing to do anything that would reduce benefits.

In March 2008, there was a column in this space headlined, “It’s all about public pensions.”

All about money

Here’s what was written about the wages paid to local government workers:

“It should be getting clear by now that government is not about service to the public, but about exorbitant salaries for employees.

“More often than not, compensation has nothing to do with performance, but rather is driven by the public pension plan that is the ultimate money grab.

“Given that the median household income in Mahoning County was $38,393 (it was $21,850 in Youngstown), the salaries raked in by public employees give new meaning to the word obscene.

“Something needs to be done, but don’t hold your breath.”

As the Ohio Newspaper Organization study established, tax dollars will help ensure that retired teachers, cops, state workers and other government employees receive retirement benefits that many of their private-sector counterparts can only envy.

But the time has come to turn that envy into direct action. How? Through a constitutional amendment that does away with the public pension system and puts all government employees under the Social Security system.

With every major newspaper in the state revealing that the taxpayer tab for the public pension system in Ohio could easily top $5 billion a year in the not so distant future, the push for a dramatic change would be an easy sell.

Every private sector employee who has seen his or her pension frozen, 401K plan diminished and co-payment for health insurance coverage (if it is offered) increase is a yes vote for making public sector workers experience the real world.

Ridiculous practices

The constitutional amendment could also address other ridiculous practices that serve to make government employment so lucrative. (By the way, the best and brightest have little chance of getting on the public payroll because excellence is not the chief criterion for employment). The accumulation of vacation and sick time that is then liquidated at the highest rate of pay is an insult to every private sector worker who is required to use his annual vacation time within the year or lose it and must be legitimately sick in order to get time off from work.

But the main reason for ending the public pension system in Ohio is that is engenders mediocrity. The amount an employee earns in pension is calculated by a formula that takes into consideration the number of years of service, the age of the employee and the average of the three highest years of salary.

Hence you have below average performers not only staying on the public payroll for years and years, but you also have them grabbing jobs that pay more with an eye to boosting their pensions.

A constitutional amendment is timely, necessary and realistic.


1bobhogue(102 comments)posted 5 years ago

"... is a yes vote for making public sector workers experience the real world."

Have you taken the time to interview any police or firefighters who happen to be public sector workers, to ask them about the "real world" that they see every day? The domestic disputes, meth labs, gun battles, and dead bodies? How about the dangers of fighting a fire, often in horrible weather conditions, knowing full well that when the fire is extinguished, there could be dead people in there?

You like to chastise public employees for being immune from the challenges of the real world. I wonder how much about the real world you actually know.

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2UnionForever(1470 comments)posted 5 years ago

Time for the public sector employees to join Social Security and Medicare like the rest of the private sector does. That will solve the problem. We can't continue to allow the public sector folks to collect 88% of their pay with full paid medical coverage starting in their 50's then come back and work their same job as a double dipper.

Constitutional change would be good!!!

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3theword(342 comments)posted 5 years ago

Its time the public sector makes as much as the private sector..

If people are upset what the public sector is making then go be firefighter, police officer or teacher and let me know how that works out for you.

You have people in the private sector sitting behind a desk making 60-80 thousand a year but thats ok?

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4Springman(235 comments)posted 5 years ago

There is nothing wrong in arguing for change, but you do not need to scapegoat public employees to fix the system.
E.G FERS Federal employees pay into SS and have a pension based on 1% per year of service and a Thrift Plan (like a 401K) with a contribution of 5% from the government. In the 1980s, this plan sounded good. At the time, interest rates were about 8,5%, and the prospect was that the thrift plan would grow enough to permit everyone to retire comfortably. Previously, under CSRS, the former defined benefit plan, workers could retire at 80% after about 41 years of service.
Whereas employees in the old plan are or are currently retiring, those in the FERS system retire later -- a lot later. The statistics are available at the Office of Personnel management. I wonder whether the public wants 80 year old policemen and firefighters.
Most of the money that went into the plans came from employees salary. For example in the FERS plan, most employees put more than 10% of salary into their plans. In CSRS it is about 7%. From my perspective, the nespapers should have autdited the audits. The people being screwed are the beneficiaries of the plans, more so than the taxpayers. If the plans fail, retirees -whether public or private - have to sustain losses. If there was hanky panky in establishing the plans and there is corruption in choosing who sells the plans, in management (follow the money) and who gets the money, then the culprits should be sued and the funds reimbursed. If there is no potential recovery, then plans will be treated like private pension plans.
I am more irate that public funds are used to go to guns rather than butter. Retirement funds should be used in part to stimulate the local tax base. Meanwhile if you need funds, the county is underlain with natural gas -- why no feasibility study? There may be enough to pay everyone's tax for the next 100 years.

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5anothermike(214 comments)posted 5 years ago

Not a public employee myself, [couldn't get a political favor], but it is about time someone writes an article that actually goes into detail so the average Joe can understand why the politicians couldn't care less about SS or public health care. It doesn't [ and never will] have any effect on them. You have to realize that these employees DO contribute towards their pension. Just goes to show that it is administered much better than our Social Security system that includes aliens who never contributed a dime, folks who never intended to support themselves, and a host of others. The autoworkers have even a better deal, they get to retire years before the real retirement age and never had a dime taken out of their paycheck for it. Now they are crying because they may have to pay for health care that they received from the company for free for 30 plus years. You know, the same insurance the rest of us paid for all of our lives......

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6SkyKing310B(275 comments)posted 5 years ago

Well BdS, you finally wrote a column with some substance I can agree with. The public sector pension plans are legalized theft of Taxpayer dollars to promote mediocrity.

No, I don't want 80 year old police and firefighters, but these are exceptions to the rule. I think a more realistic retirement income after 35 years, given the fact that PERS abd STRS employees pay more into their system than the private sector does into SS would be about 50-60% of salary.

For administrative and clerical positions, 65 should be normal retirement age, just like the private sector with retirement benefits comparable to what the private sector would receive from SS and their contributions to the plan should be the same 6.3% that the rest of us pay into SS with the gov't contributing the other 6.3%.

Elected officals should not be included in the retirement system at all. This would prevent people from becoming "Professional Politicians". They would serve a couple of terms in office and go back to work at their previous jobs. The savings to the taxpayers would be enormous.

A constitutional amendment to this effect is long overdue!

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7CompMan(125 comments)posted 5 years ago

A change is needed. Why is it 8% of private employees belong to a union and 40% of public (service) employees that the public pays belong to a union? Goverment policians will not support a change as long as their benefits are at risk. See Forbes magazine Jan 18th P 15 for more data.

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8RFederer(116 comments)posted 5 years ago

Bertram is absolutely correct. The public sector has in effect bankrupted not only local communities, but states and the Federal government. Arnold Schwarzenegger said it this morning on Meet the Press. The public workers must take cuts to get their pay and bennies in line with the private sector. Many states are facing the same deficits as California which by the way is expected to be 20 billion over the next 18 months.

A poster above mentions Hartzell as if the public sector workers face more danger and therefore are worth the higher pay and bennies. Sorry pal, but police work isn't all that dangerous compared to many other jobs that pay a whole lot less and police make up a tiny portion of the entire public sector workers.

Bertram also mentions that because of the pay and bennies, we wind up getting public sector workers who are mediocre at best. I've not heard a truer statement in a long time.

The promises that were made will have to be reneged on. The private sector simply cannot afford to continue to fund pay and bennies far beyond what the private sector gets. A taxpayer revolt is almost a given.

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9Ytownboy(142 comments)posted 5 years ago

Last time I checked it was private sector people who brought down the economy: bankers, wall street guys, financial analysts- not public sector employees.

Why is it that people aren't screaming about CEO execs who make huge salaries and bonuses, even when their companies fail and have to get bailed out. What about all those wonderful folks in the financial industry making huge bonuses and salaries for taking risks that end up sinking the economy?

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10isaac45(302 comments)posted 5 years ago

bert's trying out for fox news' sat. line-up...would fit in quite well with this rant....the damage the private sector did to this economy is massive...i guess bert's not too concerned about that

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11Stan(9923 comments)posted 5 years ago

Taxpayer revolt ? Naw ! We are in the grip of the liberal sensation . Memories are short and people are very tolerant . For the liberals there is always plenty of room for more taxes . India isn't the only place that has sacred cows . The only difference is that ours are not four legged and are involved in politics .

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12RFederer(116 comments)posted 5 years ago

The private sector did very little damage to the economy, it was but a handful of Wall Street firms and their traders. Isn't it amazing how people try to paint the entire group with the same brush?

Speaking of which, practically every public employee entity is bankrupt and asking for more in taxes.

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13Ytownboy(142 comments)posted 5 years ago

The private sector did very little damage to the economy, it was but a handful of Wall Street firms and their traders. Isn't it amazing how people try to paint the entire group with the same brush?

Without the government to step in practically every bank and major financial institution on Wall Street would be out of business right now. Yet, those very same clowns who took taxpayer money are currently awarding themselves billions in bonuses and compensation-all that for producing practically nothing of societal value.

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14ytownbar(13 comments)posted 5 years ago

This article is absolutely absurd. There is no private sector equivalant for police or firefighter and the lack of support for these individuals is astonishing. I have a friend who left the area to be a cop in Virginia because of the limited supply of law enforcement jobs in Ohio. Since he became a cop in Virginia he has been burnt, stabbed, bitten by a human, and shot. In his seven year career he has been awarded a ribbon of valor (from Austintown P.D.); a silver star and purple heart from the American Police Hall of Fame; and is currently in the running for the Commonwealth of Virginia Medal of Valor. This is the highest award a law enforcement officer in the state of Virginia can recieve. After all of his self sacrifice for a public that pays more for a corrupt sports star in one year then he will see in his entire life, you tell him you are going to take away his 55 percent retirement after 25 years.

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15Ytownboy(142 comments)posted 5 years ago

Here's something taxpayers should have an uprising against: Despite taking bailout money, and despite their CEO making $40 million dollars last year, Goldman Sachs paid an effective tax rate of 1 percent in 2008 ! The banking industry also claimed 80 billion dollars in tax deductions in 2009! All that despite the fact that they made record profits! Ohhh.. but hey... let's just get mad about the fact that police and fireman have pensions; that's obviously the real problem going on here... SMH

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16Silence_Dogood(1399 comments)posted 5 years ago

Sammarone sat on City Council for about fifteen years, earning on average of less then $5,000 a year. He then pulls a few of his OWN strings and gets the job of City Water Commissioner, where he puts in his highest three years earning about $85,000 plus a year. He then retires from Water Commissioner and goes back to City Council to add a few more years at a pittance of his highest wages. So when all is said and done with this peice of" work" , he will have spent about twenty five years working only about three HOURS a week, and three years working thirty hours a week (minus the time he spent at the gym). And he will be paid a "Public Pension" based on a income of $85,000. Now that is BLOOD SUCKING if I ever heard of it. For anyone out there that thinks this system is not screwed up refer to the EXAMPLE above.

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17RFederer(116 comments)posted 5 years ago

The public pension and health care system is highly screwed up. Gotta love how the public employees trot out the 1 in a million cops who actually deserve the benefits. They seem to forget to mention the salt stealer from the Sheriffs department, the taser lover in Warren, or the minor molester from Boardman, and many, many others. Again, cops are but a tiny fraction of the blood suckers who are getting million dollar pay and bennies for little to no value added for the taxpayers.

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18Ytownboy(142 comments)posted 5 years ago

Your average hedge fund manager-someone usually making a huge salary-pays a lower personal income tax rate than your average high school teacher! That's right! All because they are being taxed at a capital gains rate, despite the fact that they are making income from managing people's money.

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19Millie(192 comments)posted 5 years ago

The conversation has gotten off track. Will 50% of the voters, hopefully the tax paying portion, be willing to pay more taxes to keep thr pension of public sector workers as it is?
Editor, that can be your question of the day.

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20flakattack(6 comments)posted 5 years ago

How is it that what I paid into my retirement system and my employer matched is in any way "blood sucking" as a former county employee. Not all of us had brown noses to get a job but competed and earned them. I am well aware that there are those that had jobs handed to them, well as a private sector employee now, it still goes on"privately" as far as getting a job. I make more money now in the private sector than that of a public employee and my benifits from public employment have seen there share of demise with the enormous rising of medical insurance. I earned what I worked for and I was a regular Joe. Is there fat? Yes, but there is alot more muscle at work that earn their pay and pension at the many levels of public service.

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21ront(119 comments)posted 5 years ago

for the pay; i'm surprised anyone wants to be a on the police force or fire deptment. after knowing a few in both professions, i wouldn't want to do the job for any amount of money. while it may be true that most of the time it is a pretty mundane job; but that one time their life is on the line trying to help or save a fellow citizen says it all. what's it worth to you

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22dreamcatcher52(140 comments)posted 5 years ago

Nobody cried about public employee salary and pensions when the steel mills, Packard Electric and GM Lordstown were going full force. Their perks and plans were far above what any schoolteacher, policeman or firefighter could even dream of. Now that things are tough for them, they want us to join a Social Security system that we weren't permitted to join. Bertram is a crybaby. I have worked hard for 30 years with very small to no raises from year to year and paid into my pension plan. My employer also contributed just like every other pension plan. I am lucky to be in a plan that has been well-managed and will provide me with a good retirement income. And I plan to work part time if I feel like it too. I am not about to apologize for it. PS - There are deadbeats in every profession.

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23RFederer(116 comments)posted 5 years ago

Nah, DJcolon, Bertram is 100% correct. The current pension and health care retirement systems for public employees is the main reason for the financial meltdowns in various state and local government entities. California and New York are the 2 states in the worst jam but all states are feeling the pinch. You simply can't allow public employees to retire at 50 and have the taxpayers fund their retirement and health care for 40 years. It's an unsustainable system.

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24MikePrelee(38 comments)posted 5 years ago

Mr. de Souza, I couldn't fit my response to your column in a comment box. You can read it here:

I'm surprised that you thought insulting public employees was necessary to support your otherwise well thought out argument.

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25Fattkidd(45 comments)posted 5 years ago

In the private sector, executive pay used to be around 19 times the average hourly worker. Now, it's over 400% and at one time this past decade, was over 530%. Why no mention of this? Why isn't anyone complaining about the fact the our ever increasing productivity isn't being shared amongst those that actually produce? Why should the private sector begrudge the public sector because they have the wherewithall to stand together to demand better pay and benefits? Instead of tearing down the public sector which, I guarantee you, will eventually lower the standard of living for EVERYONE, why don't you push to raise the wages and benefits of those in the private sector? The whole reason 7% of private employees belong to a union and thus receive lower wages/benefits is because we've all been led to believe that unions are bad, bad, bad! Well, now the FORMER union employees are b!@#%ing about CURRENT union employees getting more money/benefits! LOL! SUCKERS! Cut your nose off to spite your face and then b!@#h about it!? How American!
Sooner or later, working class folk off all stripes and industries are going to have to learn that all of our standards of living are interconnected. If the steelworker loses pay and benefits, eventually the autoworker is going to lose and when he/she loses, eventually the teachers and cops are going to be called on to take a cut. Well, what if the autoworkers and teachers and cops supported the steelworkers back in the day when all of these trade deals were being made and all of the union-busting legislation was being passed? Instead, the autoworkers b!@#ed that the steelworkers were getting paid more and the teachers and cops b!@#ed about the autoworkers and now all of the former steelworkers and autoworkers are b!@$ing about the teachers but NONE OF YOU say a G!@DAMN thing about executive salaries or compensation! The attitude in this country is, if some executive gets a position making $1million/yr, well he deserves it. But, if some teacher makes $50k/yr and gets good benefits well, THEY'RE BEING PAID TOO MUCH! LOL! You're all a bunch of f!@#ing idiots and you all deserve to get f!@#ed by the OWNERS of this society because you all STILL insist on fighting amongst yoursleves over what scraps the owners toss you! Nevermind that production doubles about every 5-10 yrs yet wages are the same now as they were in 1960! If wages had kept pace with inflation since then, the average hourly worker would be making over $90/hr! That's a fact! But, hey, it's easier to b!@#h about a cop making $30k/yr than some fat-cat making $5million, isn't it!
F!@#ng dumb!@ses! Keep tearing each other down and expect to have your standard of living increase! LOL! I guess we should all become CEOs!

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26AXLE69(181 comments)posted 5 years ago

Nice post FattKidd but prepare to be called a socialist by the insane teabaggers on here.

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27antiytown(2 comments)posted 5 years ago

a+++ fattkidd the only part you left out is all you fat lazy amaricans dont pay any attention to your government , you beloved president clinton caused most of this by pushing a free traid bill and that pressident bush #2 pushed it on through. will you work for 3 dollers and a bowl of rice a day? yha me ether but the china man will and you will pay for it too ! how many of you bit#! and shop at wall mart ? its not your city workers (wich im not) its plotitions from d.c. to your own little dump of a town youngstown.so go drink another beer watch another football game and continue to ignore government and let it run itself.

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28disgustedjoker(46 comments)posted 5 years ago

Another uneducated article from Bertrum! County workers do pay for their retirement, county workers have taken concessions to save money, county workers have gone for years without raises so before an article is written like this, maybe he needs to do his homework. Attacking the workers in this valley is the last thing we need when the unemployment rate is sky high! The PERS system is controlled by intelligent people and will not give the retirement away to people who have never worked a day in their life, cant say that about social security. Beat up the big wigs in Washington who allow our hard earned tax paying dollars to be shoveled out to those who didnt feel the need to hold a job!!!! Why beat up a system that is actually working for the WORKING people. Oh, and by the way, bertrum, County workers also pay for their health care!!! But you dont want to point out all the positive steps that the county has taken to save money or even acknowledge the sacrafices that the workers have taken to save their jobs! Not everyone who is employed by the county, state or federal government is a lazy, inconsiderate thug!

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29theword(342 comments)posted 5 years ago


Defined benefit pensions such as the one provided via the State Teachers Retirement System are the best deal for Ohio taxpayers. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, defined benefit pensions can provide the same retirement income as defined contribution plans [cash accounts such as a 401(k)] at 46 percent of the cost due to economic efficiencies from pooled investment risk, higher returns and lower fees.

It’s important for Ohioans to understand that public employees’ own contributions and investment returns fund approximately three-quarters of their lifetime retirement benefit. As for the State Teachers Retirement System, educators themselves are being asked to take responsibility for the lion’s share of the adjustment necessary to adequately fund the pension system. Educators will be reducing their future benefits, increasing their own contributions, and working longer to pay for the needed funding. It is also important to note that public sector retirees do not receive Social Security benefits like most Americans.

Employers are being asked for a modest increase in their contribution to share in the cost of maintaining a secure retirement plan. For this investment, employers will help to maintain the solvency of a retirement plan that is an important tool in their recruitment and retention of a high-quality workforce. By extension, taxpayers benefit from a high-quality educational system, which is mandatory for the economic success of Ohio.


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30SickofJimbo(140 comments)posted 5 years ago

The county pays the employee's share of PERS. About 8.5%. Why? To cover the high salaries of its employees. So when you see an employees salary in the news add 8.5% to it and thats the truer figure. Not to mention the 15 accumulated sick days per year that is allowed to accumulate until they retire. They take time accumulated in 1984 and get paid with 2010 dollars etc. They just don't get it. Big cuts have to be made now because tax revenues will continue to decline beyond the 1/2 % sales tax that will NOT pass in May.

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31ytownsteelman(644 comments)posted 5 years ago

Only the ACE workers at YSU got the bonuses.

For those of you talking about low wages of firefighters, did you forget that there is such a thing as a volunteer firefighter? These people fight fires for free! Talk about abysmal wages! Why do they do it? Has to be for some reason other than money.

Using police and firefighters as examples of government employees is disingenuous at best. Those jobs deserve higher pay due to the risks they take. But why use their example to justify huge pensions enjoyed by bureaucrats and politicians, whose sole purpose in life is to waste time and resources and suck away your personal liberties?

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32Photoman(1025 comments)posted 5 years ago

Always remember that government is the worst manager of money. Few, if any, government programs are fiscally responsible. Government can, and will, take Social Security funds and dump them into a general fund to be used for almost any purpose. They'll also take the funds you deposited for your future and give them to others who never paid into the fund. Please do not subject our Firefighters and Police to more of the corruption that is within our government.

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33popegregory(1 comment)posted 5 years ago

I just finished reading the reponses to this article. No wonder the valley is in the mess it is. With the short sightedness of all of thesae anti public employees. You run people out.

I love the one that said public emplyees don't produce anything. Next time your wife goes for a walk and doesn't get raped or robbed, don't give a cop credit for producing anything

Next time your neighbors house catchers on fire and threatens your house, don't give a fireman credit for producing anything.

Next time your car is broken and you need a ride to work to keep from getting fired, don't give a bus driver credit for producing anything.

Next time your elderly father has a heart attack and needs a nurse, don't give her credit for producing anything.

Next time your kid gets a scollarship to YSU because of what he lurned in school, don't give a teacher credit for producing anything. After your kid graduates and moves to a progressive place like Pittsburg and gets a good job, don't give the professor credit for producing anythin.

I could go on and on with what Public Employees produce, but you wouldn't care, you are jealous of people who have jobs you wouldn't take 15-20 years ago.
You whinners make me sick.

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34SickofJimbo(140 comments)posted 5 years ago

The Vindy should request accrued vacation and sick time records from all county employees through the freedom of information act. The Vindy should also ask why the county pays yje employees' share of PERS (8.5%) The truth hurts.

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35SickofJimbo(140 comments)posted 5 years ago

Tim "once a cheat/always a cheat" Ryan should look at what Scott Brown did in Mass. He won as a candidate for the people not for the special interests aka Pelosi. You are a follower/wannabe/never had real job/government leach/cheat that just doesn't get it.

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