Thursday, June 9

Want real reform? Reform state and local government retirement

Thousands of South Carolina workers work for either the state government or the various local governments.  They do sometimes thankless jobs for us all.  They also work beside friends and neighbors in the private sector who do just as important jobs.

The difference is the good folks who work for government can retire at a relatively early age with a benefits based retirement plan that pays them nicely, while folks in the private sector must work to the SSI retirement age and have SSI checks and their own contributions to things like a 401{k} get them through the retirement years.  State employees rely on us to keep paying taxes.

Perhaps there was a time in which state employees needed such benefits to draw talent to work for the state.  That time has passed.  We now live in hard economic times, times in which state government struggles to make its way.

So, with the growing number of retirees versus folks who are working and paying taxes, perhaps it is time to reexamine state retirement. Forget who answers what role call in the State House, going  after this perk is real reform.

Lets be clear.  South Carolina will keep its commitment to all those retired or about to retire.  We made a deal with those folks, we have to keep it.  But, for others, we can change things.

First, let’s just eliminate the state retirement benefit for members of the House and Senate.  Their jobs are part time, and it is absurd that they can make more retired than in office.  Again, we keep our commitment to those retired, but we say from this point forward no more of that.

And, we have to go after state and local workers at lower levels.  Sorry.  It has to be done.  South Carolina should phase out the retirement system it has.  Even if we raised taxes on the so called wealthy, we cannot afford a benefits based retirement system that pays folks so much for not working.  We have to phase South Carolina government workers into the SSI program, offering them a contributions based retirement plan like a 401{k} and leave it at that.

Perhaps there could be some exception for fire fighters and police to retire earlier than most.  Their jobs have understandable physical demands.  But, for the vast majority of government workers, teachers included, it is time they worked and lived like the private sector.  Retiring with a benefits based pension at 50 or so no longer cuts it.  Let them participate in SSI and have a contributions based retirement like the rest of us.

I know some will cry foul about such an idea.  But, before you do, just think of the mechanic, the construction worker, the manufacturing worker, all of which pay taxes and have to work until the SSI retirement age and all they have is that SSI check and what they contributed to their own savings accounts.  Folks like that are the ones that actually help to pay the cushy retirements of state workers.  They cannot afford to do so any longer, and we have to see that and take on the state retirement issue.

Putting younger state workers in a contribution based retirement program helps them.  It is something that they can count on.  Tax revenues for benefit based retirements might be there and they might not be.  A contribution based retirement account is solid.

Reforming state retirement is the 500 pound gorilla in the political room. Not even Governor Haley wants to touch it. But, if we want to put this state on sound financial footing, we have to.  Let the vast majority of state and local workers live like the rest of us in the private sector.  Let them retire at the SSI age, get SSI benefits and  supplement their retirements with various contribution based savings.  We just cannot pay for what is going on now any longer.
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