UNFUNDED PENSION & OPEB LIABILITIES, or GREEDY UNIONS AND WEAK-KNEED POLS HAVE COOKED THE CITY’s GOOSE. TAXPAYERS, HANG ON TO YOUR WALLETS
BY DAN VALENTI
The city of Pittsfield presently faces a pension liability $186,547,000, of which $105,976,000 or 57% is unfunded. An unfunded liability is simply a promise to fund something without a cent being paid. The Planet has been addressing this issue going back to the mid-1990s. On the air and in print, we have been reminding taxpayers that one day, the bill will come due, and unless drastic action is taken now, the city of Pittsfield as we know it will cease to exist.
The liability issue has long terrified politicians, who think ahead no further than the next election cycle. They can’t afford to think strategically about such systemic problems, so their fear convinces them. To do so would mean confronting the Big Three unions — schools, police, and fire. Union ire combined with public apathy puts the “career type” pols at the beck and call of organized labor, which isn’t shy about muggery and thuggery when it comes to making terms.
$105,976,000 owed, and That’s for the Openers
Now, $105,976,000 would be enough of a problem. However, it describes only part of the dark picture.
Have you ever heard of OPEB and GASB? OPEB is not Andy Griffith’s TV son. GASB is shorthand for “gasbag politician.”
OPEB refers to a government’s (in this case, the city’s) “other post-employment benefits,” most notably health insurance. Pittsfield’s OPEB liability, 100% of which is unfunded, is $224,749,000. This brings the city’s total of unfunded liabilities owed retirees to $330,725,000. The Planet rarely employs exclamation points, but the overused punctuation mark was made for sentences like this: $330,725,000!! That’s one whopper of a bill, taxpayers. It gives you an idea of what the crooks have been up to all these years you weren’t paying attention.
Total Bill to Pittsfield Taxpayers: $330,725,000.
Thus, here’s the full dreary picture: Pittsfield faces $411,298,000 in liabilities, 80.4% of which have not been paid. Taxpayers will have to cough up $330,725,000, not a cent of which will be used to buy so much as a pencil or fill one pothole. This will be money shipped away, gone for good, with nothing to show for it (all figures from “Report on Retiree Health Care,” Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. www.scribd.com).
When politicians address the question of unfunded liabilities, they almost always do not include OPEB. They and the public employee unions have a vested interest in keeping taxpayers in the dark on OPEB, even though in Pittsfield, the liability in that area dwarfs what taxpayers owe pensioners. Most city financial statements, if they mention OPEB at all, will bury it in the notes or the fine-print section.
In June 2004, the Governmental Accounting and Standards Board (GASB) issued new rules to city and towns requiring them to disclose their OPEB liabilities, just as private sector companies must do. This hasn’t stopped municipalities from trying to bury the information. Be honest: How many of you knew about OPEB? How many city councilors, prior to this Planet report, knew about them?
Two Solutions: Bankruptcy or Pension and Benefits Reform
There’s no way the city will be able to meet an obligation of almost $331 million. At some point, if not addressed, it will force the city into full-blown receivership. All union contracts will be scrapped and renegotiated. This time, it will be on taxpayer-friendly terms. That’s the only hope for the city.
Pittsfield, like many other municipalities, kept piling on lavish benefits to its Big Three public employee unions, running up debt in a way both completely irresponsible and deceitful. Politicians did it to buy votes.
And please, don’t any apologist for the present benefits structure of the Big Three tell me the benefits were negotiated in the open and conducted above board. That would be a lie. Negotiations are done in executive session, in secret. Moreover, taxpayers don’t have a chance when they’re being represented by city officials who are willing to cave in to union demands at the first blush.
Other than bankruptcy, the only other viable solution would be The Wisconsin Remedy. The governor there, realizing the seriousness of his states unfunded liabilities, went to work to change the rules by which taxpayers tango (and tangle) with the public employee bargaining units.
The Wisconsin Call to Action
The Wisconsin House approved the governor’s measure, along party lines. Republicans voted for taxpayers. Democrats sided with the unions, which did all it could short of outright violence to bully lawmakers. Unions thugs and loudmouths made the most noise, while the reasonable majority of union members didn’t dare speak out against their leadership. That’s how public employee unions work, on intimidation and threats.
Boil it down, and the flashpoint in the Wisconsin debate is new contract language that requires public workers to contribute more to their pensions and health insurance. There’s also a contentious provision that would prohibit the right to collectively bargain (a once honorable tactic that unions fine-tuned into blackmail) benefits and work conditions. Unions could still negotiate salaries.
Unfunded Pension and OPEB Liabilities: A Huge City Campaign Issue, Candidates Take Note
Addressing the city of Pittsfield’s unfunded pension liabilities must become a major campaign issue in the municipal elections. Politicians will either declare Status Quo in fear of union payback, or they will back the taxpayers. The Planet can’t speak for other members of the media, but in this campaign, we will be point blank with candidates on their specific stand on this issue.
This election season will be wild. Open citywide seats should drive turnout. The Status Quo dreads, above all, high turnout from an angry and fed up taxpayer alliance, but you know what: That’s exactly what they could get.
With that, The Planet presents today’s guest columnist, our print and broadcast colleague from the Boston Herald, Howie Carr. In this column, the ever-effervescent Carr tells us why Massachusetts will be immune from reform that has gripped other more reasonably minded cities, states, and nations. In the Bay State, which is 99.999% Democrat, the taxpayer is cooked.
HACKERAMA HAS NOTHING TO FRET IN BAY STATE
By Howie Carr
Across the world, from Tripoli to Madison, the hackerama is in full retreat. The tax-fattened parasite classes, from Gaddafi to the greed-crazed teachers of Wisconsin, are on the run.
Except in Massachusetts.
If the United States were the Arab world, we’d be Syria, an island of tranquility, the people long since bullied into silence by a violence-prone minority sect determined to protect and preserve … their lavish layabout lifestyles. The working people of Syria are oppressed by Alawites, we in Massachusetts are vexed by payroll patriots.
If these union hacks lived in Somalia, they’d be pirates.
Look at what’s happened here just this week. Two prominent Democrats were thrown into prison — one for helping her fugitive brother file false tax returns, the other, an avowed socialist, for molesting women — immigrant women, at that. The pair got a total of four months — they’ll both be out long before Memorial Day.
And a congressman, Mike Capuano, the tough street kid from Dartmouth College, goes ballistic on a handful of pro-democracy demonstrators on the Common and starts invoking deranged images of violence, of “blood in the streets.”
He’s just lucky the drunken savages egging him on didn’t seriously hurt anybody. After all, four-on-one is pinky-ring fun. It’s how they celebrate diversity.
What would Gabby Giffords think? Is it too late to add this puny purveyor of hate speech to the President’s Commission on Civility?
Meanwhile, life goes on in the kleptocracy. A new president of UMass is appointed — $550,000 a year including “deferred compensation.” I’m sure he’ll get along great with the once and future UMass-Boston vice chancellor for governmental relations and public affairs. That would be Arthur Bernard, gone from hackademia for three years to “work” at the State House, and now back again, for a mere $175,000. And no one says boo.
New Jersey, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Oklahoma . . . the insurrection spreads, except here. As John Walsh, the chairman of the ruling oligarchy, put it of his shiftless legions of hacks growing rich on the public payroll: “We have a governor who has worked hard to make them part of the solution.”
Yeah, kind of like the African mercenaries are part of the solution in Libya.
Will there be more moonbat hate speech on the Common this weekend? A word to you Bud Light-swigging union brothers fighting to keep your phony-baloney six-figure jobs and your fake disability pensions: If you decide to wade into an outnumbered crowd of pro-democracy demonstrators wielding your traditional lead pipes and rubber hoses, just remember to get the chant right this time:
Allah Hack-bar! Allah Hack-Bar!
MORE LATER, BUT NOW WE GO TO WRITE LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND. LOVE TO ALL.