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FAT MAN AND PLANET GO FOR TWO HOURS, SAYING AND UNSAYING … REMEMBER PETER MOORE BENEFIT FEB. 26 … plus TICKING TIMEBOMB OF PITTSFIELD’S UNFUNDED PENSION LIABILITIES A LITTLE CLOSER TO GOING KABOOM AND KABLOOEY

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

[EDITOR'S NOTE: We have experienced some technical Martians backstage today. We lost some paragraph formatting about halfway through. We apologize for any inconvenience it causes for your glazzies. Our technical wizards are even as we speak at work on the case.]

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, FEB. 9, 2012) — Today, THE PLANET did almost two hours of live talk radio with Bill Sturgeon on WBRK. Lots of people wanted to hear discussion of the Nilan-Moore Case.

We asked Sturgeon off the air how he wanted to play the Nilan-Moore. The gabmeister replied first off, then on the air as a pre-emptive announcement, that it was his policy not to discuss court proceedings that were being adjudicated. Bill made the point that the commercial airwaves over which AM stations broadcast are administered by the FCC, which has rules about what you can and cannot say.

Our reading of FCC regulation would suggest it’s perfectly fine to discuss court proceedings, no matter the stage, adjudicated or not. This would be protected under the radio station’s obligation, as in duty, to keep the public informed of relevant events that effect the good and the interest of the community at large. That being said, though, The Sturgeon Show is not The Dan Valenti Show. We had our daily run, for 14 years. We understand Sturgeon’s rationale, and we support the right of any talk show host to run his or her ship the way they see fit.

THE PLANET expected and received the same when we had the Chair. As guest, we adhere to the rules laid down by the host.

The Fat Man and I did talk, and not in flinching terms, about several topics, including the performance of the school committee, the PEDA board, Silver Lake and Hill 78, the bat-awful GE consent agreement, corruption in government (yeah, stop the presses!), and even the appearance of the Pittsfield band QUARRY — led by my brother Mick  at Woodstock.

Bill’s show, and any talk radio in general, provides a great public service. I would include not just the Sturgeon Show but “Good Morning, Pittsfield,” hosted by my Right Honorable Good Friend John Krol, Larry Kratka’s shows, all of the PCTV’s broadcasts. All public access is good public access. Some take advantage more than others, and some do it better than others. Be that as it may, fact is that without public outlets for We The People’s voices, democracy has no pulse.

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REMEMBER … 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012 at Chameleon’s at 1350 East St., Pittsfield, Mass. … The REAL Pittsfield Benefit for Peter Moore … Let’s generate an overwhelming show of support for this innocent man, gravely injured by the carelessness and callousness of a hit-and-run driver. Let’s show the world The REAL Pittsfield.

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Oohh, Those Pesky Unfunded Liabilities are Making the News Today

Today with Bill Sturgeon, The Fat Man and THE PLANET talked about the ticking time bomb known as municipal unfunded liabilities. This gigantic amount that taxpayers owe to retired town and city workers continues to grow in a staggering way.

These are the monies it will take, in today’s dollars, to pay every dime that public service employee unions won, begged, borrowed, or stole from cities and town to pad their retirement. The biggest single cost is for health care. Think of it as a huge charge to the municipal credit card. In Pittsfield, for example, each year (though sometimes not that) the city will pay a minimum amount of the debt. The rest gets carried over at ruinous rates, similar to what happens when you have a $2000 credit card bill and elect to pay the monthly $20 minimum. In the short run, you think you are OK. In the long run, you are screwed.

The average single-family homeowner in the city of Pittsfield faces a grim choice: Either pay an astonishing lump sum $10,404 today or get hit with a devastating 20 percent property tax increase over the next 30 years. Why? The answer is unfunded municipal liabilities.

Pittsfield taxpayers will have to choose one or a combination of those options to subsidize hundreds of millions of dollars of unfunded health care benefits for public-employee retirees, if local and state lawmakers do not institute pension reform. We based this conclusion on research from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, which recently issues its latest report. You can read the full report here.

According to MTF, a business-backed policy and advisory group, Commonwealth cities and towns face a cumulative $4.5 billion (with a “b”) liability for retiree health benefits. This does not include other non-health benefits contractually due to retired municipal workers.
How did this all come about. Simply (but not simplistically put), the big public unions, especially teachers, would hold children hostage until cities and towns caved in and funded retirement packages far more exorbitant than what you typically find today in the private sector. The unions will say: Ah, but we earned these benefits fair and square at the negotiating table. THE PLANET would respond: Nonsense.
Granted, at one time, teachers, police, and fire were underpaid. The pendulum had to swing to catch them up with not just the cost of living but the cost of living a comfortable life. At some point (in Pittsfield, the early to mid 1980s), the unions pushed for more, more, and more. Fortunately for them (certainly NOT for Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski), the unions were negotiating with elected officials. The unions used their political muscle to in effect blackmail pansy-waist politicians into deals that proved ruinous to the general public. Over the next few years, the bill will be coming due. That’s when you will see either (a) cities in default, with all deals canceled or (b) serious (as opposed to token) pension reform.
THE PLANET recalls the grim day back in the 1980s when the Pittsfield city council quietly changed the pension rules to uncap them. Prior to that time, pensions for the highest-paid workers topped out at around $30,000. The council’s actions took the cap off, and now, pensions are based on the average of a person’s highest three years of compensation.
Considering the many city employees who are making $60,000, $70,000 up to well over $100,000 a year, 80% of that works out to a pretty good piece of change. Add health care, which exists simply to make insurance companies rich, plus the historical unwillingness of politicians — mayor and council alike — to address this issue, and the outlook for Pittsfield is not a pretty one. We share this brief excerpt from the report:

Retiree health care liabilities are so large because these benefits are almost universally available to municipal employees in Massachusetts, despite having eroded sharply in the private sector. Virtually every community in the state contributes at least 50 percent towards the cost of retiree health care premiums once an employee— including most part-time employees who work at least 20 hours per week—completes just 10 years of service. By comparison, according to a 2010 survey by the state, only 14 percent of all Massachusetts employers offered health care benefits to retirees over age 65, including those employers that do not contribute anything to premiums.

The point is worth repeating — the benefits taxpayers owe to muni retirees have increased at the same time the benefits offered by companies in the Dreaded private Sector have decreased. Or haven’t you noticed what union activism has done to manufacturing in America? It’s made this once-great country a service country that contracts out the real work and the jobs that go with them.
By law, a city such as Pittsfield has two ways to cough up the money for the pensions: It can pay-as-you-go or make an annual contribution. Currently, Pittsfield funds retiree health care pay-as-you-go. This means the city — rather, the city in the name of taxpayers — pay only the annual cost of benefits for current retirees. Pittsfield does not fund benefits for active employees, who far outnumber the current retired population.
Tick … tick … tick … thus snaps the timer on the bomb.
The fund these unpaid obligations, cities such as Pittsfield will have to institute huge tax increases, slash services, or do both in combination. Cities could also institute pension reform. For example, Pittsfield could go back to cap pensions. It could raise the eligibility for retiree benefits, it could end spousal and dependent coverage: These actions would all reduce the taxpayers’ share of premium contributions. Pittsfield also could (and should) go from the current 85-15 split (taxpayers pay 85%, member pays 15% to a more equitable split such as 60-40 or 50-50). That alone would save millions. Also let us not forget the Dreaded Private Sector, which currently pays a disastrous tax rate in Pittsfield. These liabilities are so large that, if unaddressed by politicians, they will crush cities left and left, right and right.
This isn’t PLANET VALENTI saying this. These are the hard numbers talking. Questions: Will Mayor Dan Bianchi, my Right Honorable Good Friends on the city council, and the School Committee find the political will to address the situation in favor of the taxpayers? What do you think, folks?
Interestingly, 10 of the most cash-strapped cities in Massachusetts face the highest due bills. In addition to Pittsfield, these include Worcester, Springfield, New Bedford, Lowell, Lawrence, Holyoke, Haverhill, Fitchburg, and Brockton.
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LET ALL OF US BE BAPTIZED BY THE CORN DEW … BE CALLED ADULTERER, DRUNKARD, LIAR, WRETCH! … NO NAME LEAVE OUT THAT ORTHODOXY LOVES … WHAT DOES IT MATTER? WE KNOW WHO WE ARE — NOT TYRANT BEAST BUT VOICE OF THE LITTLE GUY. OH, TO BE SO HUMAN!
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.

24 Responses to “FAT MAN AND PLANET GO FOR TWO HOURS, SAYING AND UNSAYING … REMEMBER PETER MOORE BENEFIT FEB. 26 … plus TICKING TIMEBOMB OF PITTSFIELD’S UNFUNDED PENSION LIABILITIES A LITTLE CLOSER TO GOING KABOOM AND KABLOOEY”

  1. Joetaxpayer
    February 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    What can you say,Pittsfield along with those other communities do not like change.That is how we have always done it.Anytime there is a proposal to try and save money it is shot down.Switching over to toter system for trash,closing one of the 5 fire stations,merging some of the many school buildings,hiring some part-time employees, to get a handle on over-time. Yes police and firemen too ,sell-off all city properties that are not needed or used.Pittsfield’s tax base and population are shrinking if they cannot get a handle on expenses taxes will continue to go threw the roof.But thats how we have always done it,lets not stop now.

  2. Ed Shepardson
    February 9, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    Did I miss it? Is Grunin in or out?

  3. Veronica
    February 9, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    I heard mr. Valenti on the radio today for the first time (i”ve only moved to the city within the year). I thought I was listening to a national talk show. He’s is a most impressive and persuasive speaker. The issue of the pension liabilities I had no idea how bad it is in Massachusetts. Thank you for this information, particular the MTF which I have downloaded.

  4. Bill Sturgeon
    February 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    Dan:
    Thanks for coming on the show, today. I always enjoy our discussions. While my other two colleagues have “talk shows” they do not have call-in element and one of the show is pre-recorded.

    Dan, you can attest to the difficulties of a “LIVE” call-n talk show. Once again, thanks for coming on today, I thought it was a great show!
    “The Fat Man”

    • Dave Bubriski
      February 9, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

      Always a great show when you guys get together

      • Kevin
        February 9, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

        Yes. Planet and the Fat Man. Wow. Nothing better on the air, anywhere. Great show fellas!

  5. JUST SAYING
    February 9, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

    DV-

    Great article. Thank you.
    The Liberal mindstate that pervades around here is destroying the balance of private sector growth vs. Public sector entitlement. We have few private sector jobs that offer a living wage. Yet, the tax payers are expected to fund deals made with anti capitalist unions that were made in times of much greater prosperity.
    I would not want to defund those who were promised a pension or health care. They entered into a contract, it should be honored.
    But, if you can not pay your bills, you downsize to a point that allows your household to be solvent. The city must find ways to reduce spending, all of the feelgood money wasting such as the skate park, the rebuilding of the Common, the disaster of the North Street construction etc must be halted until the city can pay its debt.
    The average citizen sees costs for food, heat, transportation and property taxes increase at alarming rates. Meanwhile the city spends and spends.
    So goes Pittsfield and America. It is sickening to see the waste that politicians are willing to put on the backs of the average taxpaying working individual.
    The special interests/unions own the tax burdened workers.

  6. Beacon Hill Mob
    February 9, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    Hey Dan,

    It is not just Pittsfield.

    LENOX IS WAY UNDERFUNDED.

    HOW IS THAT, GREG FEDERSIEL??>

    TELL US GREG!!!!!

    IS THAT YOUR PENSION??? OR ALL THE PEO[PLE YOU SCREWED ???

    TE3LL US GREG??????

    WE WANT TO KNOW!!!!

  7. Nomad
    February 9, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    As I stated in an earlier blog…even Dan Valenti’s appearance on the Bill Sturgeon show could get me to listen to it. But, I’m not surprised to read that Sturgeon refused to discuss, or allow discussion of the hit-and-run. I drive Newell St. almost daily during the noon hour. A white car with “WBRK” registration is frequently parked (as it was today) in the lot next to the Democratic GOB’s meeting place. I can’t help wondering if there’s a connection?

  8. dusty
    February 9, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

    Regarding the unfunded pension liabilities…..I would imagine this would have a huge negative effect on the local real estate market fairly soon. Home valuations should plummet even further and selling to get away will become difficult. Who would lbuy into an area with that kind of tax rate?

    • Ray Ovac
      February 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

      Yeah, Move to Pittsfield!
      If taxes don’t kill you, chemical contamination will!

  9. CONCERNED
    February 9, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    Bill Sturgeon what the hell are you talking about, the FCC has rules that don’t allow you to talk about the Nilan case. Is this what your telling us, please tell me your not blaming your cowardness on the FCC. Your covering this up more than the courts!!!!!

    • ambrose
      February 10, 2012 at 6:03 am #

      Of course its not the FCC. Radio stations talk about alledged crimes every day. The station owners have told him its his job if he discusses it. Why can’t he just tell the truth and get on with the things his listeners really tune in to hear. 50 minutes talking about a dress shop, an hour with Kate McGuire talking about an upcoming play, Liam Geddes singing at the Union Square et. al. These are the I and most reasonable people like ti listen to. For myself, I’d much rather listen to what a fabulous education you get in the Catholic school or how much money you would save if you rent a pick ax at Carr Hardware rather than buy a pick ax.

      • K-Man
        February 10, 2012 at 7:03 am #

        Right on target, ambrose. Love the biting wit cuz you just show the flaw of that show three hours of trying to stretch one hour of material into three. its like when you came home for lunch with a bunch of friends and your mother had to somehow triple the amount of soup she made. Gets way watered down. when Valenti had the show an hour the length was perfecdt and he almost never tossed a dud. If im sturgeon i cut back to two hours and talk about Nilan case.

    • Veronica
      February 10, 2012 at 7:00 am #

      As I heard it explained, it sounded like Bill was saying he had a rule (a house rule if you will) that he would not discuss cases in adjudication. I admit his references to the FCC clouded it and he didn’t need to say that, but I think Bill can run his own show. I would prefer he allow discussion of the case but respect him any case.

      • Nancy P. aka Molly
        February 10, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

        wouldn’t his not discussing fall under the category of a “moral coward”?

  10. Tito
    February 10, 2012 at 4:34 am #

    Mazz is starting to falter.

  11. rick
    February 10, 2012 at 5:32 am #

    how so,
    tito

  12. Tito
    February 10, 2012 at 6:14 am #

    @Rick….accident happened on her street, where is all the safety concern and hullabaloo the council advocated during election debate?

  13. K-Man
    February 10, 2012 at 7:05 am #

    also note that mazz hasn’t commented at all publicly. now why is that? little too close to home, maybe?

  14. Jonathan Melle
    February 10, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    http://www.usdebtclock.org/
    You should put together a web-site for Pittsfield like the U.S. Debt Clock web-site. That would be awesome.

  15. Beacon Hill Mob
    February 10, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    Hi Dan,

    The “WEALTHY” town of LENOX has a similar debt crisis.

    The Town Mis -manager, Federspiel, has has his head in the mud concerning this. Is his pension money in a different place?

    • Eric Vincelette
      February 10, 2012 at 11:06 am #

      @ Beacon Hill Mob…

      I have worked with Greg Federspiel thru my involvment on the finance committee and I assure you he is very well aware of the unfunded liability situation and has in fact been trying to educate others on it for years…Lenox started an OPEB trust this past year and began funding it with $100k. Not the $500k annually we need to to keep up with our obligations, but a start.
      Do you life in Lenox?

      • Eric Vincelette
        February 10, 2012 at 11:10 am #

        sorry I meant , Do you live in Lenox?