The Jan. 22 commentary regarding the Public Employee Retirement System’s Actuarial Committee’s decision to accept a recommendation allowing employer contributions to state retirement systems to remain steady for six months was most creative. Employing the tale of the ant and the grasshopper to make your points was indeed colorful.
However, this fanciful editorial exercise overinflated the significance of the committee’s decision, offered the reader a false choice and used an inappropriate metaphor.
The committee decision will not lead to cataclysm. Members simply chose prudently between two actuarial recommendations. Both actuaries had made it clear that each recommendation was based on their expert opinions regarding future events. The decision merely postpones a conversation that all agree will take place in the near future. As soon, perhaps, as the Legislature has dealt with this year’s $750 million shortfall, and next year’s looming $2 billion deficit. PERSAC adopted a resolution that recognizes Louisiana’s fragile fiscal condition.
While we love good metaphors, your use of a metaphorical ant smashed by a coalition of school boards, unions, principals and superintendents was simply offensive. What happened at that committee meeting was greater than an exercise of the relative power of any group or groups. The committee listened to both actuaries, asked good questions and understood the consequences of their decision. In the end, they exercised common sense.
This was not a tale about the comparative ethics of ants and grasshoppers. Certainly no one’s dancing to a merry tune while someone else is doing the hard work. Numerous reforms affirm a long-standing legislative consensus that our retirement systems must be on sound financial footing.
That’s not because of the profligacy of teachers and other public servants, but because governors and legislators, in your own words, “failed to pay” what was owed in the past. Potential solutions must be cognizant of that and should not make retirees bear the cost of the state’s malfeasance.
Our state is facing a real crisis. The amounts that must be raised to keep us solvent through this year and next are staggering: $750 million this year, and $1.9 billion next. Yet, The Advocate would ask us to pile another $95 million obligation on local governments that are already facing the certainty of budget cuts, while maintaining that this additional burden will not adversely affect children, our schools and our teachers.
Meanwhile the debt, or unfunded accrued liability, of the retirement systems has actually been going down as scheduled. It’s one of the few areas where our state is actually heading in the right direction.
Here is an appropriate metaphor: Now is not the time to pour gas on a fire.
president, Louisiana Federation of Teachers