All public employees must pay

The 33 percent number must have felt like a jolt from a Taser.

After all, if the 33 percent can be applied to one set of public employees, why can’t it become the standard for all such workers?

There’s no reason why.

Indeed, the number has the potential of rallying the public in its campaign to force the public sector to tighten its belt and reassess spending priorities.

On July 6, the four members of the Mahoning County Board of Elections (two Republicans and two Democrats) took the unusual — and brave — step of requiring all employees, including themselves, to begin contributing to their public pensions. The keyword is begin. According to Deputy Director Joyce Kale Pesta, employees of the board of elections, like most county government general fund employees, have not had to pay any of the 9.5 percent employee’s contribution. That’s because county government (read that, we the taxpayers) picks up the entire tab — the 9.5 percent, plus the employer’s contribution of 14 percent of every salary.

It is only in the sheriff’s department where the employees actually invest in their own retirement.

But, with the board of elections now requiring its employees to pay 3 percent of the 9.5 percent worker’s contribution, the door has been kicked wide open for all other departments and agencies to follow suit.

Costs skyrocketing

Recently, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the amount of tax money spent on public pensions in Ohio and guaranteeing retirement payments for government workers increased by nearly a third over the past six years.

The cost of supporting the pension funds for state and local government workers will be $3.5 billion this year, The Plain Dealer reported. The number is expected to rise in the coming years when more baby boomers retire.

Government retirees in Ohio earned a median pension of $21,804, according to an analysis by the newspaper. The average for private sector workers, including Social Security, was $18,390.

“States like Ohio offer far better plans than anything that is available in the private sector,” said E.J. McMahon, a pension expert at the Manhattan Institute in New York, which analyzes government policy.

Ohio’s public pension systems generally require workers to contribute 10 percent of their salaries to the funds. Taxpayers contribute between 14 percent and 25 percent, the newspaper reported.

The rest comes from investment earnings.

That’s why the action by the Mahoning County Board of Elections carries such an ominous message: For the first time ever, public employees are being told in no uncertain terms that the taxpayers are mad as hell over the ever increasing cost of supporting them and aren’t going to take it anymore.

“It’s huge. I think it’s a good start,” said board Chairman Robert Wasko, a Democrat, of the 33 percent pension contribution and other concessions exacted from the board’s employees.

Indeed, next year workers may be required to contribute the entire 9.5 percent.

Why should a private sector worker whose retirement fund has been frozen, or whose contribution to a 401K plan is not matched by his or her employer, have to contribute to the public pension retirement system?

As has been noted in this space ad nauseam, the time of reckoning has arrived for those who slop at the public trough. Being able to retire from your cushy job while you’re still in your prime and then receive a pension and full health-care coverage for the rest of your life reveals just how disconnected the public sector is from reality.

A right?

To make matters worse, the retirement system is viewed as a right that must be financially sustained at all costs. All over the country, public pension systems are in trouble and the public is being told it has no choice but to pay more in taxes to bail them out.

If your anger hasn’t yet reached the boiling point, here’s a little tidbit that will have you ... joining the Tea Party movement:

Our poor, overworked, under appreciated public employees have not had pay raises lately, and so the keepers of the public purse — elected officeholders — decided to let them off the hook on the pension contributions.

There’s just one problem: Having the taxpayers pay the 9.5 percent is tantamount giving the workers a raise.

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