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To repeat: It's all about the pension

Published: Sun, April 13, 2014 @ 12:02 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

Reading last Sunday’s Page One story about the exorbitant raises slopped up by a goodly number of Mahoning County government employees brought to mind one of the most memorable lines from the movie “Wall Street”:

“The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” — Gordon Gekko, the main character in the 1987 hit.

Yes, greed is good — if you’re fortunate enough to be on the public payroll. Why? Because the greedier you are, the better off you’ll be when you retire.

It’s all about the public pension system. The more a public employee earns, the more he’ll receive when he retires. Think “three high,” the main ingredient in a ridiculous formula used to calculate the pensions. It refers to the average of the three highest years of salary. The formula also takes into consideration the age of the worker and the number of years on the public payroll.

So, while last Sunday’s story in The Vindicator focused on the 700-plus raises granted in 2013 and this year to a whole bunch of employees — some with obscenely high salaries — the underlying reason for the boosts needs to be emphasized: pensions.

Another memorable line

In keeping with the movie theme for public-sector compensation — greed — here’s another widely repeated movie line.

It’s from “The Godfather” and is spoken by Santino “Sonny” Corleone about a meeting his brother, Michael, is to have with the head of a rival organized crime family:

“What did he say, badda-beep, badda-boop, badda-boop, badda-beep, he wants us to send Michael to hear the proposition, and the promise is the deal is so good we can’t refuse. Ha.”

“Badda-beep, badda-boop, badda-boop, badda-beep” well describes how the public pension system works. You suck up as much money as you can while you’re on the payroll and “badda-boop” you have a vacation home in Naples, Fla.

Meanwhile, the poor slobs in the private sector who keep paying through the nose to bolster government pensions spend their retirement years as greeters in the big-box stores.

Yes, this writer is obsessed with the public pension system — as evidenced by many columns warning of the financial ticking time bomb — but there are other columnists who also see the system blowing up in the faces of private-sector taxpayers.

Consider this piece by The Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, a well- respected, veteran scribe. It’s headlined, “Public pensions are eating taxpayers alive,” and starts off thus:

“Some of my best friends, to coin a phrase, are lifetime government employees. When they stop working, their pensions will put them among the highest-earning retirees in the country. On a personal level, I’m glad my friends’ retirement will be so comfortable. But as a taxpayer, I know that their good fortune, multiplied by hundreds of thousands of government workers like them, will only worsen a swelling political and fiscal crisis.”

By some estimates, according to Jacoby, the long-term unfunded pension liabilities in states throughout the country add up to more than $4 trillion. (That’s trillion with a T).

In May of 2012, this writer pegged the unfunded liabilities of Ohio’s five public pension plans at $66 billion. Since then, the General Assembly has taken steps to deal with that crisis. To their credit, Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled General Assembly made it clear that the shortfall would have to be dealt with by the public-employee pension systems and not the private sector taxpayers.

Employee contribution

Hence, the statutory requirement that public employees pay their contributions toward their pensions, rather than the money coming out of the public treasury.

But as the obscene pay raises in Mahoning County have shown, requiring the employees to pay their fair share, without boosting their compensation through raises, would mean a reduction in their wages.

And that’s a no-no when it comes to ensuring that the “three high” salary average remains as high as possible.

That’s why the exorbitant pay raises, and the many not-so exorbitant, but nonetheless obscene, increases were granted.

It’s about the pension.

In the words of Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street,” “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”


1papa1(711 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

it seems as if in every town, city, and state, on some level, corruption exists. eventually it will bring this country down. and greed is NOT good. good article bertram.

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2redeye1(5666 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Gdog You must be one of these privileged few. Because I don't believe, I'm saying this but BERT is right!!!!!

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3badeepster(124 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Once again Bertie looks in the mirror, realizes he'll be working for this hack newspaper for the rest of his miserable life, and attacks what he wishes he had chosen to become. The big question: will anyone be able to understand him when he says in broken english: "Welcome to Wal-Mart???"

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4CongressWatcher(225 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

I understand Bertram right now badeepster. I can understand why a police officer or a fireman needs to retire at an earlier age than the rest of us, but the water department billing agent, or an office administrative assistant is a different story. Just to name a couple positions that this retirement scheme makes no sense.

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5kurtw(1823 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

@bad "Once again Bertie looks in the mirror, realizes he'll be working for this hack newspaper for the rest of his miserable life, and attacks what he wishes he had chosen to become. The big question: will anyone be able to understand him when he says in broken English : Welcome to Wal-Mart???"

Well, Bad, I never listened to Bert, but I've been reading him for many years and- although I don't always agree with him- he writes anything but "a broken English" and your comment just reeks of xenophobic Bigotry. What makes you think he's miserable? Working for a newspaper, it seems to me, would be a pretty interesting occupation and I'm sure he won't starve when he retires and he's going to have lots and lots of interesting memories- even more than those of an ACMES member in the County Auditors Office.

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6Nurse_Midlo(34 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Bertie is right this time.

It IS all about the PENSION.


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72muchtax(897 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Lanacek nailed it n is completely correct! Good writing Bertram, these 5 to 8 thousand dollar pensions after as little 30 yrs are only trumped by the large pensions of ohio state troopers after 20 yrs! How about the corrupt DROP program that allowed police Hughes I cannot speak English to retire with a single lump sump of 512000 plus pension or police n fire dept retire n keep working for 3 more yeas and collect double for those 3 yrs while ripping off the taxpayers!

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8notdownandout(7 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Why 2much do you folks always harken back to Hughes as if he was the first and only one with drop. Current Chief Lees, former Chief Foley Capts. Vodilko, Powell, and every officer who retires has drop. But why the hoell is it any of your business. It's not tax dollars that makes up drop, it's the officers' pension that they would receive drop or no drop. All drop does is allow the pensions to be frozen at a lower rate and accumulated. the city saves money. 2much you're ignorant, jealous and a racist.

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