Pension fight

February 9, 2011 1:37:07 PM PST
Two wars that still rage, huge numbers of Americans still unemployed, an economy that remains stuck in mud.

All of them are under the microscope and much debated. Less debated, but absolutely important to governments and to taxpayers is the issue of public employee pensions.

With state and local governments now billions, sometimes tens of billions in the red, legislators and citizens alike are taking new and critical looks at the way pension plans work.

The private sector has for years been on a different system from the public employees' defined benefit pension plan. When corporations switched to the employee-contribution 401-K plan, many peeps protested loudly. But the truth was some companies were nearly going broke funding pension plans that paid benefits for life.

It was painful, the switchover and perhaps in an ideal world it wasn't "fair." But that's now the reality in the private sector. And taxpayers who have long bid farewell to their lucrative pension plans of old are still on the hook for paying for public employee pension funds.

New York Mayor Bloomberg has made reforming public employee pensions a top priority for his last term in office. And he's running into a brick wall of resistance from police and firefighters' unions, especially. Hard to blame the cops and firefighters; they were, after all, hired under the assumption that if they work for inarguably below-private-sector wages, they'd be taken care of financially in retirement.

But with the economy in such bad shape and predicted to stay tough for the long term these huge lifetime payouts are now coming under scrutiny.

In Nassau County, the money spent on police salaries and pensions is now the subject of a fierce debate especially with the money-challenged County now taken over, financially, by state authorities. The highest paid employees in Nassau? Police. By far. The top 10, and more. Salaries well into the six figures. Deep into the six figures.

And two cops just retired with pensions of more than $800,000.

In California, an uproar in the making, as a flood of police retirements in San Francisco have been made public. And it's making news. The former chief, Heather Fong, got a final-year payout of more than half a million dollars. And now she's getting nearly a quarter million a year in pension money. For life.

Her former deputy chief also left in 2009 with a farewell check of more than half a million, including (like Chief Fong) hundreds of thousands in unused vacation and sick pay.

In most of the private sector certainly at my shop here we have a use-it-or-lose-it policy when it comes to vacation and sick days.

Is it time for the public sector to get in-step with the private? Perhaps it is. As for the argument that public employees give up the pay they could make in the private sector, in exchange for these long-term benefits, maybe it's time to raise the pay for public sector workers; make wages competitive with the private sector.

I'm just sayin'.

We'll have the latest in the quite-public feud between Mayor Bloomberg and the unions fighting his pension reform proposals, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, a disturbing story involving a Little League coach now charged with having sexual contact with three teenage boys, and with having child porn. How did he get to be a coach?

And some fascinating news for those who like to regularly upgrade their inventories of electronic gadgets. Several big retailers now offering upgrade programs that let you know what your current equipment is worth every year, on a depreciated basis. That way you can get a trade-in value when it comes time to upgrade. For many who think we're simply too high-tech, new-product driven, this will be over the top. But for the others who like to always have the newest and best version of stuff, this is a gawdsend.

We'll also have the latest on the icy roads. Meteorologist Lee Goldberg says temperatures will drop again overnight ? although not as brutally as this morning the commute in the morning figures to be tough, again. I know this morning was an adventure. What a bizarre feeling to be driving on ice, and having virtually no control of your car. Some of the streets in New York City, I know, were iced over because peeps shoveled and tossed snow from the curb into the middle of the street. And then overnight it turned into an ice rink.

One bit of good news, some of the Christmas trees that have lined the streets for more than a month are now being cleared. For those who question cutting down a living tree to display it for a couple weeks and then dispose of it ? the site of these dead trees lying prone on the streets all this time has made them even more skeptical of the practice.

I'm just sayin'.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.


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