Article

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.

Unfunded liabilities: Got the taxpayers seeing red.

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.

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Guest Column

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!

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MORE LATER, BUT NOW WE GO TO WRITE LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND. LOVE TO ALL.

24 Responses to “UNFUNDED PENSION & OPEB LIABILITIES, or GREEDY UNIONS AND WEAK-KNEED POLS HAVE COOKED THE CITY’s GOOSE. TAXPAYERS, HANG ON TO YOUR WALLETS”

  1. GMHeller
    February 25, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    Mr. Valenti,

    Excellent expose!
    It’s no wonder The Berkshire Eagle, which never met a tax it did not endorse, doesn’t publish these debt figures.
    $411,298,000 in total liabilities is mind-boggling.
    Question: Are you able to ascertain the total number of current and former city employees who make up the golden (make that: platinum) group to whom, or for whom, these future obligations are due?
    Plus, if one uses the total number of current and former covered city employees as a divisor, just how much does that work out to be per covered (current or former) employee?
    Also, if that $411 Mil is divided by the current population of Pittsfield or by the number of households in the city, then just how much is the city’s debt obligation per resident or per household?

    • danvalenti
      February 25, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

      GMH
      Appreciate it.
      I don’t have a number for the number of employees, but it’s with demographics and longer life spans, it’s sure to be a ponderous number. Add to the insane cost of health care, which if the OPEB liability, and it’s a formula for the destruction of Pittsfield.
      The per-capita cost is roughly a tad more than $10,000 apiece for each of the 40,000< residents of Pittsfield. Population is shrinking. The unfunded liabilities are growing. That cost will only be on the rise. And yet, our wimp pols hear, see, and speak no evil.

  2. PCP
    February 25, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    How much will each of the new positions cost the City of Pittsfield taxpayers? As reported in today’s Pittsfield Gazette , page 13 Tricia Farley-Bouvier would be promoted to Director or Administration position. Whatever happened to Equal Opportunity Employment? What are the individual’s qualifications? Being the former “China Doll? Claiming that it was wonderful to accept a check from Sherman Baldwin for $1,000.00 according to City Council minutes? Remember, just a few months earlier he had appeared in federal district court to explain why he couldn’t make his restitution payment to the U.S government for his fraud conviction. As Councilor at Large, what major petition did she ever submit to the City Council that saved the taxpayers money (documented) or improved government efficiency?

  3. editor
    February 25, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    I always knew you were a Howie Carr Wanna Be!!! Dan as much fun as I have blasting you about your blogs Today you made me realise I have better things to do than read your Blog. So farewell Your Blog has become such a joke . I won’t be checking it out anymore.

    • Joetaxpayer
      February 25, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

      From your mouth to god’s ears,good ridence editor,you won’t be missed.Say hi to Beasley.

    • danvalenti
      February 25, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

      Yeah, whatever, editor. Just make sure the door hits you in the ass on the way out!! When you don’t post anymore, I’ll know it’s you.

      • Howie Carr
        February 26, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

        Dan its when the phone doesn’t ring I’ll know its you! Stop being a wanna be!! Im the one and only!

        • danvalenti
          February 26, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

          Nice to have you back, beasley.
          Howie, BTW, is the ONE and Only.
          So is THE PLANET!

        • Joetaxpayer
          February 26, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

          Welome back D-bag!

  4. Jonathan Melle
    February 25, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    Dan Valenti made quality points about unfunded liabilities in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The state & local pols made empty promises they could not pay for. The unions are as disingenuous as the corporate elite when it comes to taxpayer dollars. The people are the insurance companies for the insurance companies. We will have nationalized our public and private debts by the end of the 21st Century, while Socialist states have nationalized their assets in the 20th Century. The American people will own nothing, while the peoples of Socialist states, such as China, will own everything. I disagree with Dan Valenti that only the Unions and the Pols are to blame for the collapse of Capitalism. I believe the corporate elite’s, who run Wall Street and slum in D.C., take their excessive share of the loot, too, such as the many trillions of dollars from the bail-outs from 2007 – 2009. The bail-outs gave over 90% of taxpayer dollars to Wall Street with less than 9% to Main Street. Moreover, I believe Unions do a lot of good for society. They give workers a voice in management that helps everyone. I believe it is myopic to blame Unions for our public debts.

  5. JoeBlow
    February 25, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    Thankfully I am moving to Texas this spring….this city is doomed!

  6. rick
    February 25, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    run joe get as far away from here as possible, and dont look back..good luck to ya.

  7. Ariste
    February 25, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    Wow. What an eye opener. This piece should win The Planet a prize. Glad you drove off that nitwit editor. He couldn’t stand such truths as are revealed here. You were too much for him!

  8. just saying
    February 25, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    DV,
    Thank you, great way to open up debate. Let’s see how the candidates for office in November respond.

    Editor, F you, goodbye useful fool!

  9. Scott Laugenour
    February 26, 2011 at 3:38 am #

    This article is very useful information to show others in the world the paradigms that our domestic policy debates are stuck in. I’m thankful that there are models to consider other than the two sagas of Madison and Pittsfield. Rather than accept a race to the bottom or an increasingly stratified and polarized society, others who care about raising living standards, life expectancy, fairness, education, enterprise, and being responsible stewards to the environment are rightly rejecting both and are providing models that we should consider.

    Next week I’ll be interviewing a few political leaders, presently in power, who have been successful at finding new ways in these particularly difficult times. I’ll share this article with them to get their perspective on the Pittsfield vs Madison question.

    Let’s expand.

    • Joetaxpayer
      February 26, 2011 at 10:14 am #

      I hope Deval Patrick is not one of them,he actual think he has done a good job as governor.

      • Scott Laugenour
        February 26, 2011 at 10:36 am #

        No, the governor is not a model of thinking outside the paradigm and is not a subject of the interviews I am doing next week.

    • danvalenti
      February 26, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

      SCOTT
      Exactly. Let’s build on this. Keep up the good work.

  10. GMHeller
    February 26, 2011 at 4:22 am #

    Mr. Valenti,
    You write: “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.”

    It seems to me that for Pittsfield, there are actually two foundational sets of issues confronting the citizenry, and thus, local candidates, this fall.
    Please be ‘point-blank’ with candidates on both sets of issues because they focus specifically on the City’s long-term health: the fiscal and the physical.
    Take your pick as to which is most important.
    The fiscal, of course, is this pressing matter of Unfunded Pension and OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) Liabilities.
    The solution at bottom is one of mathematics and you have enumerated most if not all the likely alternative methods of obtaining a result.

    The second issue where it is also necessary to know point blank where candidates stand deals with Pittsfield’s long-term physical health.
    The matter is Unremediated Chemical Toxins left here mostly by General Electric Company and that are poisoning every resident a little bit more each day via the city’s air, soil, and ground water.
    The city’s children and expectant mothers are most sensitive to the long-term effects of these toxins.
    The solutions for dealing with this environmental pollution are also pretty clear, and it is fortunate that General Electric, the party with total liability in these matters (though the company may not want to do what needs doing), does have the engineering know-how and the deep pockets to be able to address the scope of what needs to be done.

    So plainly there are solutions to both sets of these pressing local problems, but candidates must be pinned-down as to where they stand, on whose behalf they intend to act, and whose feet they intend to hold to the fire in order to effect remedies.

    • danvalenti
      February 26, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

      GMH
      I shall be my ever direct and pounding self when I interview candidates who are applying for the jobs this coming campaign season. These two lines, unfunded liabilities and dealing with GE toxins, shall be at the point.

  11. arpaint
    February 26, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    Dan I cant understain why the councilors keep on approving all this spending when we are face with such high det.And they still want to buld a school.what wrong with people do they think the bill will never come due? I have become convince that the people who hold office [not all but most] are living in a fools world.They don’t care how much they speend because they can always go back to the tax payer and get more. Dan I hope you keep up with what you are doding I am a always interested what you have to say.

    • Joetaxpayer
      February 26, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

      arpaint,I have to agree with you,were you asked as a taxpayer if you would like to build a new high school in your city.I think all of us taxpayers should have a say

  12. danvalenti
    February 26, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    ARPAINT
    Councilors, like most politicians, are under severe pressure to “go along to get along” in a town with the shark politics of Pittsfield. Also, they have to think about getting re-elected. When apathy is high and turnout low, the special interests dominate the campaigns. Therefore, it makes political sense to please the masters rather than the people. The sure way to break that is if (a huge “if”) large numbers of new voters get involved. If we could drive a turnout of 70% and more (common in the 50s, 60s, and 70s) councilors would stop approving wanton spending.

  13. rick
    February 27, 2011 at 6:55 am #

    the “huge if” could happen if we find out” why “. we need to do a poll to the people and find out why we are not voting. this means door to door , or a poll in the local papers. we can all speculate, but we need to find the answer before we can cure the apathy. a poll on this site would be helpful. is it the people that run? is it what the past pols have done? im sure everone out there has a question of why. after the 70s, something happened, and i think people just threw their hands up and gave up. i looked at all the yes votes these past 9 years and wonder if the people who got elected feel the same way. and thats why they vote the way they do. p.s i dont mean the eagle running a poll unless jimmy carter came here and counted the results.