Monday, December 26, 2011

Tackling the Issue of Public Pensions

An interesting development in the pension story. Previously it seemed that pensions could not be touched, even in bankruptcy, but that may no longer be true. Here's how this NY Times article describes the situation:
The last American city to work its way through Chapter 9 bankruptcy was Vallejo, Calif., which finished the process this year. It had to navigate similar stumbling blocks. Initially, it planned to cut its workers’ and retirees’ pensions, but it changed course when California’s giant state pension system, which administered Vallejo’s plan, threatened a costly and debilitating court battle.

Vallejo instead cut pay, health care and other benefits, as well as city services and payments to its bondholders, and left the pensions intact. Even though the bondholders faced a loss, all parties eventually agreed they had been treated equitably, and the state passed a law making it easier for Vallejo to continue borrowing.

The episode strengthened the perception that public retirement plans were unalterable, even in bankruptcy.

[...]

Until now, 60 percent of Central Falls police officers and firefighters have retired on full disability pensions, drawing the inflation-protected and tax-free payments even when they embarked on new careers. One of them, at 43, has become a prominent personal-injury lawyer and can be seen in television ads shooting baskets and pretending to fall down a manhole. That retiree, Robert Levine, a former police officer, said his disability was the result of an on-duty car crash where he was not at fault, and that his pension had been granted lawfully after his condition was certified by three different doctors.

The retirees, who are not represented by the unions, voted in favor of their pension reductions last week. The cuts would be up to 55 percent of each retiree’s benefits, which now vary widely, from about $4,000 to $46,000 a year, depending on final salary, years of service and other factors. A few retirees would give up more than $25,000 a year. Central Falls’s police and firefighters do not participate in Social Security.

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