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Before getting to the point, I would like to thank The Valley Reporter for giving pundits like me, Robin Lehman and Mike Lussen our opportunity to debate in public the issue on one side of whether public unions are crippling taxpayers or on the other whether public employees deserve pensions and pay that surpass private workplace averages. Letting us present opposing ideas and points of view is a rarity in Vermont media.
Now, back to our story: There is one basic reason why I, as an old, one-time union militant, has opposed the hefty contracts enjoyed by unionized public workers: Recent figures indicate that U.S. states are missing more than $1.25 trillion in order to pay for them.
It is a nationwide shortfall that grew by 26 percent in one year with no end in sight on how to pay for it, according to the Pew Center on the States. Stockton, Calif., a city of 290,000, just declared bankruptcy, with the main culprit being fat payoffs to pensions of city workers. Voters in San Diego and San Jose, two huge California cities, recently by vast majorities voted major pension reforms for city employees.
At last, the reforms in favor of taxpayers are going nationwide. New York state’s pension liabilities grew so fast that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, proposed that future state and New York City employees start paying up to 6 percent of their costs, double what it used to be. The Pew Center reported that 31 states had pensions that were underfunded.
When defenders of the “fair compensation” for these workers tout that they deserve decent pay and pensions, they leave out the important fact that the people who have to pay for those excesses are ordinary citizens of those particular states and municipalities. They are not greedy, bloodsucking corporations; rather they are hardworking middle-class families who are struggling in this sour economy to put food on their own tables. Is that fair and just?
This has become a huge issue this election year, with Democrats mostly on the side of continued public spending and Republicans who wish to rein in government debts and deficits. I am one who believes that if we don’t get our spending under control, and that includes the reform of Social Security and Medicare, the bankruptcy of the country is a sure thing.
I know there are many in Vermont who disagree with the prospects of future generations being made to pay for our reckless spending, but I ask: Do they have the guts to tell their grandchildren that they may never get to college, they may never own a home or a new car, and they will probably be working until the day they die because there will be no Social Security nor Medicare nor private savings to help them in old age?
John Hilferty lives in Moretown.