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Secrecy on part of lawmakers should anger Ohio’s taxpayers

Published: Tue, November 2, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

If you want to know how much re- spect our state legislators have for us (the private sector taxpayers), consider this comment from Rep. William Batchelder, the Republican minority leader, on the issue of public pensions and his being the Legislature’s biggest double dipper:

“I’m not going to deal with all that. Apparently, the legislative function has escaped you. I vote for traffic laws. I vote for real estate laws that affect me. I’m not going to get into that.”

What was it that got Batchelder’s defenses up?

Questions from the Akron Beacon Journal and The Plain Dealer of Cleveland about his collecting more than $100,000 in retirement benefits from the Public Employees Retirement System and another $86,000 in House leadership pay.

But Batchelder isn’t the only one in the Ohio General Assembly who has decided to tell the state’s major newspapers, which have spent the several months investigating the public pension system, to stuff it. By extension, the legislators are telling the people of Ohio that details of the public pension system aren’t any of their business — even though taxpayers are footing the bill to ensure public employees enjoy a financially comfortable retirement, complete with health care coverage that most private sector workers can only dream about.

Such arrogance on the part of lawmakers in Columbus who are the beneficiaries of this largess must not go unpunished.

Latest summary

In the latest story on the public pension system by the Beacon Journal and the Plain Dealer published in Sunday’s Vindicator, the following paragraph summed up what is going on in the General Assembly:

“Every one of Ohio’s 132 legislators is part of the Public Employees Retirement System and stands to benefit from keeping the fund solvent — and to lose out if benefits are reduced or the required service time is increased.”

The problem is members of the House and Senate want to keep the PERS and the other four public pension funds solvent while keeping the taxpayers, through the Ohio Newspaper Organization, in the dark about such issues as service time, pay and benefits for each of the 400,000 pensioners and the hundreds of thousands of public employees.

The ONO is a collaborative of the state’s largest newspapers, including The Vindicator.

The papers have gone so far as to agree to the names of the pension recipients being excluded from the records. We believe that such an accommodation is overly generous, given that billions of tax dollars are funneled into the public pension plans.

Indeed, state legislators will soon be dealing with proposals from all five Ohio public pensions to shore up their funds, such as raising retirement ages and boosting contributions from public employees and taxpayers. Four of the systems want to change the guaranteed 3 percent annual cost-of-living allowance for their retirees. Two of the funds are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars more from the taxpayers to make up anticipated shortfalls.

No answers

But when the newspapers sent a questionnaire to each legislator seeking information about his or her pension memberships and the number of immediate family members — children, spouses and parents — who were participants in a state pension plan, the response was predictable: Democratic and Republican leaders said they and their members would not answer the survey.

What does that tell you?

We, the private sector taxpayers, are being treated like saps by those who want us to bolster their pensions.

It’s time for citizens groups to join Ohio’s newspapers in putting a stop to this violation of the public’s trust.

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