Much is being made of the events playing out in Wisonsin the past several days, with protesters swarming the capitol building in Madison to rail against the governor’s intentions to cut funding for state workers’ pensions and other long-standing benefits for public employees. Such demonstrations are not isolated to Wisconsin, with showdowns between public workers and state governments ready to erupt in states like Tennessee and Ohio.
With revenue having rapidly vaporized the past few years, it’s been expected – and often asserted – that drastic measures were necessary in order to stave off, in many instances, aggressive and pervasive municipal liquidation. Public administrations throughout the country had taken dumb, and at times, desperate measures to plug yawning budget gaps wrought by retirement payouts, or as a means to simply cash in on whatever pie in the sky venture some private investment firm was marketing at the time. I believe it is safe to say that we all are only witnessing the tip of the iceberg here; additional sustained demonstrations supporting either the elimination or preservation of publicly-subsidized benefits for civic employees are sure to follow.
Here in New York State, the collective budget issues are as bad as, if not worse than, what most other states are currently experiencing. Because New York City is home to scores of major banks and private investments firms that heavily influence activities on Wall Street – which in turn amply supplies our state coffers – the recent economic collapse has essentially stripped state government of funds necessary to fulfill myriad obligations. The results of the meltdown have paralyzed Albany, with the ripple effects being profoundly felt throughout the state, including in Rochester. It’s not like our state was flush with cash before 2008; the Wall Street breakdown, massive government bailout and resultant Great Recession merely served to exacerbate our shared financial predicament.
Being a former teacher and observing how hard fellow teachers in the Rochester City Schools and local suburban districts work, it disturbs me to read and hear the continuous barrage of criticism levied – mostly unwarranted – against them. Nonetheless, I do adamantly believe it is past time that all teachers and other public employees begin to contribute toward their own pension and retirement portfolios. Regardless of whether Jean-Claude Brizard or other RCSD administrators are willing to sacrifice pay or other benefits for the sake of the district, RTA and BENTE – Board of Education Non-Teaching Employees – leaders should strongly encourage their respective constituents to consider this course of action.
This is unequivocally not an attack on the teaching profession, city or suburb. We simply can no longer afford to pay the billions of dollars – trillions, over time – that have been required to support their retirement packages. The money just isn’t there; it hasn’t been for quite some time. Furthermore, most of us in the private sector are having a difficult enough time planning for our own retirements. The longer this crucial undertaking is delayed, the greater the likelihood that these challenges are going to compound exponentially.
Instead of continually pointing fingers, we should all take a reality pill and reassess our priorities. Any pay and benefits cut should really start at the top of the RCSD, which would mean Jean-Claude Brizard foregoing his guaranteed pay raise and other princely benefits. The same could be said of the dozens of the upper echelon lieutenants in the district, who have been enjoying six-figure salaries on top of other handsome inducements. RTA President, Adam Urbanski is drawing two, maybe three different paychecks, therefore he is not excused from this particular conversation either. It’s not so much a question of whether or not these people – all public employees – are deserving of their pay. What it basically comes down to is that we can no longer come up with the money to furnish their retirements.
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