Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Unsustainable Benefits and Entitlements

Teachers are being laid off. People are having fewer children and enrollments are declining. That, together with state revenue cuts, is forcing a RIF - a “Reduction In Force.” Now, the detested (by me) teachers’ unions are applying their cherished (by them) contract rules so that younger, lower-salaried, and often more-effective teachers will get the ax, while older, higher-salaried, and, oftentimes, sclerotic teachers will not. It’s “last-hired, first-fired” regardless of the effects. All of us - students, parents, administrators, and teachers - know who the good teachers are and who the bad ones are, but thanks to the unions, little of that knowledge will apply in the RIF.

As the most-senior teacher in my school district with 33 years of service, my position is safe. I’ll decide whether to continue teaching year-to-year and, as of now, I’m planning to sign a contract for September, 2010. One factor in my decision about retirement will be whether I can depend on the Maine State Retirement System I’ve been paying into for more than three decades. I simply don’t think I’ll be able to rely on it if I live to be 78, or whatever the average life expectancy is for heterosexual American white guys like me.

Why? Because the Maine State Retirement fund has declined with the economy, just like everyone’s IRA has. Public employee retirement in Maine and other states is guaranteed by the taxpayers if the fund is insufficient to meet the “defined-benefit” obligations to people like me. Therein lie my doubts. If I retire at 60, I’m supposed to get around $40,000 a year and a third of my individual medical insurance premium until I’m dead. That’s not too good compared to what public employees in other states and in the federal government get, but very good compared to what the average Maine taxpayer can expect. Maine is not only one of the poorest states in the country, it’s also one of the highest-taxed. That’s not a good combination. How long will Mainers be willing and able to continue supporting retirees like me and my fellow baby boomers should the retirement fund run out of money? Not too long would be my guess.

Governments at every level are rapidly reaching the point where they cannot continue to deliver what they’ve promised, and millions of people have, unfortunately, learned to expect. It isn’t just me and my pension. It’s Medicare for everyone. It’s Social Security. It’s disability payments, welfare payments. All of it. We know this, but we pretend not to. We put off the day of reckoning as if maybe it won’t really arrive. Rather than cut back on entitlements before the system collapses completely, we increase them. We borrow money from a country like China, which can’t afford to provide these benefits for its own people. Up to now, they’ve lent it to us because we obviously can’t afford it either. Lately, however, they’re getting reticent. They see that we’re printing money so they’re abandoning the dollar along with everyone else in the world.

While the number of students in my school district has remained fairly constant over the past three decades, the number of employees has about doubled. We’re looking at layoffs for next year, but around the country government jobs are increasing rapidly while private sector jobs decline. Government employee unions are now bigger and more powerful than private sector unions. One big reason General Motors and Chrysler went bankrupt is because they couldn’t pay the generous benefits of retired United Auto Workers, which amounted to almost $5 billion in 2006 alone. For every active worker, General Motors was supporting 3.8 retirees and dependents. President Obama and congressional Democrats took over the auto companies to protect bloated union contracts, not to help our economy. Now taxpayers are on the hook for them.
States and cities are going bankrupt. Government unions are strangling taxpayers just as private-sector unions have strangled stockholders. Unsustainable entitlements are growing and Democrats are trying desperately to prop it all up while blaming Bush for it all. Ordinary Americans, however, are seeing through that. The growing Tea Party movement represents grass-roots citizens who want to stop the madness before the whole country goes over the cliff. The November elections are going to be very interesting indeed, just as special elections in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts have been.

Since I can’t expect government to take care of me, I’m being a lot nicer to my children. Meanwhile, I anticipate that I’m going to have to keep working until about five years after I’m dead.


Anonymous said...

A married couple, both retired California schoolteachers,are direct beneficiaries of the left coast's system. Between the two, their retirement pay is $14,000 per month.

A retired middle-schoolteacher from the same district in So. California retired on about $85,000 a year in 2007.

Municipal and local government police employees learned decades ago that a 20-year retirement can be greatly increased with an assignment that has a large amount of overtime, factored into the "high three" years towards the retirement benefit.

Show Low Yaqui

Anonymous said...

"...or whatever the average life expectancy is for heterosexual American white guys like me."

Hmmm, somebody feeling a little insecure about their sexuality?


Maybe you can change the name of your blog to "Hetero-Tom", then NOBODY would mistake you for a homo, right? Wink, wink.

Anonymous said...

Mr. McLaughlin, thank you for the very revealing truth about our government entities and the entitlements for which they, and the taxpayers, are obligated. Through the years, the unions have definitely built their power on what they have been able to extort from employers - now the chickens have come home to roost. The benefits will not be sustainable - the time to earnestly begin adjusting is NOW. Thank you again for the very informative and insightful article.
By the way, I am a state employee and I worry about the retirement that I have been building in my retirement plan through my years of service and my 401k - and I work for the retirement system!

Anonymous said...

My retirement is guaranteed, the fund is under a contract. Problem is there is no COLA clause and then they take Inaurance which goes up yearly. At the present rate I will be paying it all in for insurance in about 20 years. I do not oppose unions but they have been granted too much power by the government, be it Democrat, Republican, Liberal or Conservative. It still comes down to 'We The People'. We vote for those who will give us the what we want so they can get re-elected.

"We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us"

How painfully true this is today even 40 years after great Pogo said it.

Andrew said...


Several comments from a new reader . . .

First, apropros of this column, I agree with most of it, except the point near the end at which you suggest the Ds are to blame for the entitlement mess. It was on Clinton's watch that the most successful entitlement reform took place, and some Ds are working constructively on reforming the Social Security system. Neither party has shown the fortitude to do what needs to be done.

The equal compelling need is address the significant economic injustice that exists--here Bank of America is doling out $4 billion in bonuses to the same group that contributed to the train wreck while tens of millions lack decent jobs, health insurance and the other things you and I take for granted. That kind of inequity cannot be blamed on the people who benefit or suffer from it. People are jobless and homeless through no fault of their own, and many who have received great wealth are not earning it legitimately. The disparity has grown in recent years to unprecedented levels. It is just plain wrong,morally Biblically ethically, and all people of conscience know it. Yes, entitlements need reform, but the focus cannot be simply taking away from the recipients of such assistance; we have to look also at the ability of the most fortunate to help the least fortunate. It is that piece that is missing from your analysis.

Next, whoever is posting the comments about your sexual preferences needs to stop because it is getting old, but you do invite such digs with references such as the one in this column to the lifespan of a heterosexual white male, which I think could reasonably be interpreted as a sly slur on gay men. Maybe they do have shorter life spans--I have no idea because I am also a hetero white middle aged male and haven't investigated that particular area--but why would you inject that concept into a column on a completely different subject? Again, I'm as weary as you are about the snide comments from anon but you can help bring them to an end by avoiding inflammatory and gratuitous references.

Lastly, there was an ugly and un-American comment left a few days ago about weeding out "leftist trolls" that I hope you will reject and even publicly repudiate.

You have created an electronic soapbox for yourself, and by opening the blog to commentary from all, you leave yourself open to some heckling from bystanders like myself. It is an act of courage on your part and deserves our respect.

I assume--I hope--you welcome responsible commentary even if it dissents from your viewpoints. That debate is the American way, and to propose eliminating contrary viewpoints is un-American.

The trolls comment is indicative of a narrow-minded perspective that has difficulty tolerating other points of view. As Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." I am afraid the troll commentator is demonstrating signs of a less than first rate intelligence by calling for the expulsion of those with beliefs different from his hers or its own. His her or its perspective unfortunately is all too prevalent in our polarized political discourse. I hope you will reject the suggestion. I enjoy your well-written and well-thought out columns even though I disagree with much of what you say, and hope to be able to continue participating in this fashion, since I don't have the time or the talent to handle my own blog.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Just as I'm against the federal takeover of GM, I'm against the bailout of Bank of America. Both should have been allowed to fold. If they run their companies that way, they should fold. And, to take the principle further, if our government continues its path toward the cliff, we should fold as well.

Our government is only a reflection of ourselves. We voted it in. It looks like we're about to vote it out in November and we will if we're to have any hope for recovery.

Bush was wrong to set up TARP. Obama and the Dems are wrong to expand similar government bailouts. The Tea Party movement is amorphous so far - not affiliated with either party. If Republicans don't shape up and return to conservative principles, they're going to be left behind. Perhaps a new party will emerge. Neither Dems nor Repubs comprise a majority is many states. Independents swing one way, then the other. It's them who will determine things this year. Sarah Palin's speech this weekend in Tennessee should be interesting.

Gotta go to work. More later . . .

Anonymous said...

I may be wrong but was it Reagan who removed the banking restrictions so the really big ones (See BofA) could take over and screw things up.

Anonymous said...

" do invite such digs with references such as the one in this column to the lifespan of a heterosexual white male, which I think could reasonably be interpreted as a sly slur on gay men."

I agree, Andrew, except for the part where you call Tom's slur "sly". I would say it was more "doltish", seeing as how this was one of the numerous matters that has already been shown to be complete malarky in a previous thread.

But of course Tom ignores this as he does every viewpoint, idea or fact that goes against his beliefs. I have never seen such a chicken-hearted reaction to simple question as is displayed by Tom. On his own blog he does not have the guts to debate matters rationally! How embarrassing for him!

Andrew said...

That seems a tad harsh, Anonymous. As I said above, he shows some fortitude by putting himself out there, writing under his own name, whereas the rest of us can be anonymous. I haven't been following the blog long enough to say you are flat wrong, though, so maybe from your perspective the harshness is deserved.

Anthony Tinai said...

It sure will be interesting what Palin says at the Tea Party convention from which almost all major speakers and sponsors have pulled out of because they believe it's just an attempt by the GOP to make a buck and jump on a bandwagon.

But hey--she needs to get paid after quitting her old gig!

Her speech would certainly make a good drinking game. Take a drink every time she says, "golly", "shucks", "maverick", "Joe-six-pack", or "Ya know I just tell it like it is!"

Andrew said...

One area on which I agree with Tom's is unions. Even though I fall somewhere between moderate and liberal on the political spectrum, I have to admit that labor unions have largely--not entirely--outlived their usefulness.

Their genesis was in the era of intolerable working conditions, before any meaningful government regulations. Thanks to OSHA, the Wage and Hour Administration, EPA and the EEOC, employers can't get away with abusive work environments even if they wanted to, or at least it's more difficult. So really the unions serve only two purposes now--to negotiate incrementally better contracts and to protect individual employees against arbitrary action by the employer.

The problem is that the unions have come to see their mission as protecting jobs at all costs, even if it means fighting against improvement in productivity, accountability and quality.

So the Maine Education Association, to its discredit has opposed anything resembling merit pay, outcome-based evaluations, and of course innovation in the form of charter schools. So Tom,you are right on in faulting unions as an impediment and obstacle to reform and improvement in many areas.

At the same time, things are much better now than before, because in the era of overseas competition, unions have come to see their survival and their members' survival as tied to the employers' survival. So one sees more concessions and fewer job actions. There have been remarkably few strikes in recent years, probably due to the economic climate in which people feel fortunate to have jobs.

The sensible Dems do need to liberate themselves from the fringe left, just as the sensible Rs need to liberate themselves from the fringe right.

Open primaries everywhere, in which candidates would be motivated to run toward the middle instead being motivated to pander to the hardcore party faithful at both extremes would be a huge step forward. Each party's primary would yield the candidate best positioned to win the general election, and the country could only benefit.

Tom McLaughlin said...


I bet Sarah Palin knows how to pronounce "corps" though. Our brilliant, Ivy-League-educated president doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, but Sarah Palin is not an intelligent person:

"During Sarah Palin's interview with Glenn Beck today, something extraordinary happened -- Beck challenged Palin on a stock, noncommittal answer to a question. Beck asked: "Who's your favorite Founder?"

"You know, well, all of them, because they came collectively together with so much--" Palin began, in a manner much like her non-answers to Katie Couric's questions about which newspapers she's read ("All of them.") and which Supreme Court decisions she's disagreed with (which brought a similarly broad answer about how there are a lot of decisions).

"Bullcrap," Beck interrupted. "Who's your favorite."

Jim said...

@ Anonymous:

If you think Sarah Palin is not intelligent you must really be embarrassed to have Joe Biden as the Vice President.

I think my favorite Biden quote thus far is...

"When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, 'Look, here's what happened." –Joe Biden, apparently unaware that FDR wasn't president when the stock market crashed in 1929 and that only experimental TV sets were in use at that time.

Thank you Obama for choosing such a bumbling idiot for a VP.

Bob said...

Tom, what did you think of Palin's teabagger speech? Was it worth every bit of the $100,000 she was paid?

Tom McLaughlin said...


You'd have to ask the Tea Party convention organizers. I'd rather she spoke to them for expenses and for whatever they might do for her in 2012.

By referring to them as Teabaggers, I assume you share MSNBC's disdain for the movement.

Anonymous said...

Biden's spokesman, David Wade, countered: "I'm proud to say that we Democrats aren't experts at Herbert Hoover depression economics like John McCain and his pals. From Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, we just get elected to clean up the economic mess these Republicans leave behind."

Anonymous said...

Sorry Jim, it's no contest. Joe Biden doesn't need to write "budget", "tax", "lift american spirits" on his hand in order to keep his train of thought. And he at least knows who FDR was.

Jim said...

Haha, of course he doesn't have to write notes on his hand when he just makes up/re-writes history!

One thing Biden probably should write on his hand is how many letters there are in the word J-O-B-S. Joe Biden is about as good at counting as Tim Geithner is at paying taxes.

Anthony Tiani said...

What does it say about our incurious, rabid anti-intellectual pride, sound-byte culture when a potential leader of the free world has to remind herself to "lift American spirits"?

Can anyone possibly defend this without resorting to "Yeah! Well.....the president mispronounced a word once!"

GBA said...


First, let's be accurate Anthony. Obama, the Commander-in-Chief, the head of the military, mispronounced Corpsman [b]THREE[/b] times in the same teleprompter assisted speech.

Second, I find it hilarious that the left and self proclaimed apolitical people like you Anthony are so threatened by Citizen Palin giving a speech with a few notes on her hand. Especially because Obama can't even make love to his wife without the help of a teleprompter.

Ask the Cambridge Police department what happens when Obama talks off-teleprompter.

Anonymous said...


I guess not.

Anonymous said...

You Palin hators don't know nuthin anyhow--yule see the teeparty will rool.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Nice try Anonymous. What are you going to do next? Stage a fake hate crime?

Anthony Tiani said...

If anyone on here thought I skulked away, let me now disappoint you.

Every president, (and person for that matter) in the history of presidents, has mispronounced words in public and committed occasional gaffes (kind of like how you called me "Anothony"). However, what Sarah Palin displays is a stunning ignorance to not only how the world works, but how her own country works.

Whenever she chooses to let the evil media ask their "gotcha" questions (which is becoming more and more rare thanks to her being surrounded by handlers who protect her from the unwashed masses) she invariably shows her cards--and her cards are nothing, a void mass where a thinking, reasoning brain should be.

She didn't understand that there was a North and South Korea, she poked fun at our president for sometimes using teleprompters while checking her hand so she didn't forget that taxes are bad, she couldn't name a newspaper she reads, she couldn't name a supreme court decision aside from "Roe V Wade", she can't name her favorite founder (she likes to respond,"all of them!" whenever asked about something specific), she thinks Rahm Emanuel should be fired for calling libs retarded but says it's ok when Limbaugh says it.

I could go on and on and on.

Conservatives also love to parrot the talking point that the public is threatened by her conservatism.

As an independent who has various conservative values, I can tell you I don't at all fear her views....because she has none.

What I do fear is her stupidity and what it would do to the country and the world should she actually attain power.

Tom McLaughlin said...

What I like most about Palin is that she terrifies liberals. I think it's because she typifies people who live in that broad red swathe between the coasts, who regard Boston, New York and San Francisco liberals as elitist, self-regarded intellectuals that have outsmarted themselves.

Anthony Tiani said...

If you think electing a vapid moron just to spite a segment of the population is a good idea than have at it.

It's interesting how you haven't refuted any of my points--so I'll assume you either secretly agree or are deluding yourself.

Is it really so terrible to WANT someone who is SMART running the country?

The American presidency has turned into a cult of personality.

Anonymous said...

I'm a liberal and I don't know one single liberal who is terrified in the slightest by Palin. It is pretty hard to be frightened while busting a gut laughing. Face it, the woman is the laughing stock of the nation. I hope she hangs onto her "fame" a bit longer because she is always good for a chuckle. I'm laughing now thinking about her writing "lift nations spirits" on her hands like a 7th grader before a test!!! ooops, might forget that "lifting spirits" thing. And, oh, what was that word I was supossed to bring up again...oh yeah..."budget"!!!! Unbelievable! I seriously did not believe it when I first heard it, I thought it was a joke. I had to check many places to verify it. Oh god, she's great!

Funny how people love to bring up the word that Rush or somebody thought would be insulting - "teleprompter". Yeah, it would be much more presidential to look at notes jotted down on his hand!


All presidents since the teleprompter was invented have used them. None have been moronic enough to mark their skin with a sharpie for their speeches! Too much.

I Love Palin!!!! She is the reason radical conservatives will not be getting power. They show their stupidity by having this unelectable bimbo as a hero!!!!

Alex said...

One need only search "Reagan Teleprompter" on Google to find a slew of images of the conservatives' messiah reading off of a teleprompter. They are just one more tool for public speaking. Face it, the days of Lincoln and Douglas are gone! It's the 21st Century!

GBA said...


I agree with you...I love Sarah too and fear nothing about her.

Also, if you have some free time could you please help Anthony (the independent democrat apologist) get over his fear of Mrs. Palin?

Anthony Tiani said...

GBA, your incredulous dismissal of the facts I presented puts a warm, self-satisfied grin on my face.

Anthony Tiani said...

To all the Obama and Palin worshipers: wise up to the adoration of idols. You will surely be disappointed.

Remember how excited the neo-cons were about Bush, and see now how they pretend they never supported him.

GBA said...

Anthony, I wasn't responding to you, but rather the anonymous poster after you. That's why I put '@Anonymous' at the beginning.

However, in response to your puerile remark...I'm glad I could leave you smiling and satisfied.

Anonymous said...

Hey, GBA, I'm glad we agree on Palin! Every day she brings a smile to my face. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's SNL! She is a liberal's dream!