Editor’s Viewpoint: Paying for the sins of the fathers
Americans have never been particularly comfortable with government, which is what drove most of our relatives here in the first place. Even once they were here long enough to establish local, state and federal governments, many of them couldn’t wait to leave for a lawless existence out west.
But, by the time Americans had conquered the wilderness, governments back east were becoming firmly entrenched, and in some cases, not in a good way. In only the second issue of The American City, the chart below appeared to illustrate a story about the results of a report from consulting engineers hired to investigate what had “made the city of Boston the most expensive in the world and one of the least efficient.” The report — which detailed corruption and mismanagement in the city’s government between 1906 and 1907 — blamed the mayor and aldermen who, it said, appointed department heads who lacked technical qualifications, and employees, therefore, had no incentive to perform efficiently themselves.
Those types of negative perceptions about government still exist 100 years later, and today, the mixture of several ingredients — heaping amounts of state deficits, poor financial investments or judgments and employee pension indebtedness — has created an anger pie. Of the three, the lack of funds to pay for public sector pensions is becoming the lightning rod for angry taxpayers suspicious or mistrusting of government, their employees and union representatives.
The reason why public pensions are making headlines across the country is clear. First, pension deficits can be huge and significantly add to a budget deficit. Second, the decisions to challenge pension payments often involve public safety employees. And, third, and most divisive, few retiring from the private sector have a defined benefit pension like the public sector and are wondering why they have to pay for someone else’s retirement.
Public sector employees aren’t the villains, but they could be victims. Rather than make them pay the price for the numbers of factors that affect government budget deficits, remember that the generations of government leaders who did not honor their promise to set aside money for today’s retiring government workers failed both today’s employees and taxpayers. Unfortunately, public sector employees easily could become convenient scapegoats.
Determining who is to blame and exacting a punishment may satisfy old and festering grudges, but it is unfair and a distraction to the real job of solving a very large, but not unmanageable, problem.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.