August 2, 2011

The Overriding Point on Pensions

Justin Katz

Retired Cranston police captain Robert Barber feels very strongly that his pension should not be modified one bit:

The mayors are asking the people who sacrificed their bodies, families and health for the service of the community to sacrifice more. Statistically, law-enforcement officers die 10 years earlier than the general population. The mayors are asking me to sacrifice my source of income. I will not collect Social Security because I did not pay into it. In a few short years I will be forced to enroll in Medicare. For 27 years, I was called away from family functions, vacations and holidays, 24/7 to fulfill my contract. I did so proudly and gladly. When the economy was booming, I went without a raise for four years and worked without a contract. At my age, how will I make up the difference the mayors want me to give up?

Counterpoints could be made, line by line. I suspect, for example, that the mortality statistics for law-enforcement officers who reach retirement are not so dramatically different from the average. It is a dangerous job, and every officer who dies young for job-specific reasons skews the numbers. As for being on call, a great many careers, particularly those of business owners, require adjustment to personal activities.

The major hang-up, once again, enters with the question with which Barber ends the paragraph: at his age. According to the bio line at the end of his essay, Mr. Barber is 58 and has been retired for eight years already. In other words, he still has four years to go until he reaches the general population's average retirement age, at which point he'll have been retired for 12 years.

It's important to note that Barber highlights a number of other areas of public expense that also should be trimmed in order to advance our state's economic health:

The article also lists 37 names [of legislative employees], and the lowest raise was 10 percent. Aren't the legislators also getting a raise? In the June 26 "PolitFact" acticle, Gary Sasse says Rhode Island spends 52 percent more per capita on human-service programs than the U.S. average. Rhode Island is spending this much more than the rest of the nation on entitlements, mostly for people who don't work, while taking money away from public servants who served honorably for decades.

Be that as it may, Mr. Barber may have to file his threatened lawsuit, because public sympathy is clearly waning for young retirees from the public sector, and perspectives are not what they once were. Nowhere is this more sharply drawn than his closing words. He writes that he's "being vilified because [he] worked hard and planned well." To my knowledge, there's no reason to question his hard work, but choosing a public-sector job under the protection of the union structure that dominates the state does not amount to a feat of financial planning justifying a near-midlife retirement.

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"Robert R. Barber is a retired Cranston police captain. Now 58, he retired at 50."

This is all you have to really read from the article. The remaining entitlement-mentality hissy fit borders on irrelevant.

"Once again I am being vilified because I worked hard and planned well."

You worked hard, but you didn't work long. You planned long, but apparently you didn't plan well. Bet you wish you had your thousands and thousands in union dues back now and invested in a 401k retirement plan.

Posted by: Dan at August 2, 2011 7:46 AM

Where did this insane Greece-like sense of entitlement come from in ths silly little state?

I am in my late 40's with absolutely zero hope of retiring until at least age 70. I work much harder than the average policeman, who drives around most of the day. I have strees in my job too.

Yet this pitiful person is outraged that his age 50 retirement--i.e. probably 35 years of being on the dole--is in jeapordy.

That is so odd and bizarre it's impossible to comprehend. Just like the folks in Greece who can't beleive they may actually have to work until age 70 like the rest of the world.

One way or another the public employees in this state are going to get a dose of reality

Posted by: Doug Meisner at August 2, 2011 2:39 PM

When the check bounces, then maybe he will understand

Posted by: Kathy at August 2, 2011 3:55 PM

Nope, then he'll sue and probably successfully find a judge that'll agree that he's owed the money.

Posted by: Patrick at August 2, 2011 4:54 PM

"Nope, then he'll sue and probably successfully find a judge that'll agree that he's owed the money"

Wow, imagine that...finding a judge willing to uphold a valid contract. Is RI the only state that does such an egregious thing?

Posted by: seirra1 at August 2, 2011 8:21 PM

Doug said:
"Where did this insane Greece-like sense of entitlement come from in ths silly little state?"

It came from government Doug. Remember: "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." (No way suggesting you're that old.)

Its always been about what government can do for you. You can't blame public sector workers for being assimilated into this culture. While this is unsustainable, I blame our government run by politicians whose only hook for retaining their power is, "What can I do for you?"

Posted by: Max Diesel at August 2, 2011 9:53 PM

I love how everyone villifies police and fire for retiring "young" when everyone agrees that we dont want 65 year old cops and firefighters. If we pushed them all to desk jobs it would cost more as you would need to pay salaries for another 20 years.

What people forget is we pay thousands upon thousands of RI's to live an entire life of retirement. Thousands bilk SSI and SSDI to collect checks for life. You have parents putting their kids on the rolls to increase their checks and ensure Jr. has a lifetime check as well. How many times have you seen someone with a designer bag and gobs of jewlery swipe that Govt. debit card to pay for those carriages full of food or worse yet, buy those rolling papers a cumby's?

Even if we enacted no pension reform and paid the projected 620 million for next year, its still less than 20% of the 3.4 BILLION RI is going to spend on social services and entitlements.

Some of that 3.4 billion should go to into the pension fund (coupled with reforms) and some of it ought to go to cities and towns to provide property tax relief and finally, some sould be used to reduce corporate tax burdens to encourage a more business friendly enviorment. But nope... ignore it and keep bashing unions.

Posted by: rich at August 3, 2011 12:36 AM

"I love how everyone villifies police and fire for retiring "young" when everyone agrees that we dont want 65 year old cops and firefighters."

No. But we want them there till 55, like many other places in the country do.
Not 41. Or 39.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at August 3, 2011 9:35 AM

Ok Tommy. I dont have a problem with that either. However, your reply shows one of our major problems. Out of all I wrote, you focused on the part about public workers retirement age and totally neglected the part about reducing the 3.4 Billion we spend on social services and entitlements.

I dunno, it seems obvious to me. Im not saying salary and pension reforms arent in order. Infact, im saying the opposite. It just amazes me that we spend 3.4 billion on these fraud filled programs and everyone is like:

"yea we know social services and entitlements are rife with fraud and costs us 3.4 billion a year, we're obviously not happy about that but what I really want to see is those damn unions taken out..."

Reducing this 3.4 billion (along with pension reforms) is the answer to our problem. Its staring us in the face and NO ONE is even being vocal about it, never mind actually doing anything about it.

Posted by: Rich at August 3, 2011 6:34 PM

Rich-I think about all of us here want to see the welfare queens and the illegal aliens taken out-along with the public unions and the cronies.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at August 3, 2011 7:00 PM

"I think about all of us here want to see the welfare queens and the illegal aliens taken out-along with the public unions and the cronies."

If that's true why don't we see AR's bloggers taking on the welfare/entitlements issue as often and as gleefully as they do the union issue?

Posted by: seirra1 at August 3, 2011 8:15 PM

I'll take a stab at that one. The political climate in RI is currently such that there is actually a fighting chance to roll back the union tide of unsustainable pay and benefits. The bloggers are choosing their battles and riding that tide of public opinion to make real change. There is still no political will or capability to reform Rhode Island's welfare-state status, so there is no point in focusing resources on it at this time.

Posted by: Dan at August 3, 2011 9:30 PM

Actually, it's because the welfare folks don't comment here and elicit much of a response. People get bored when nobody is listening to them.

Posted by: michael at August 3, 2011 9:36 PM

A sincere question: Has a green light gone out in union communications that turning on the welfare-state crowd is permitted or even encouraged? I ask because the suggestion is all of a sudden being made quite frequently.

And to that suggestion, I say, yes, let's. As Dan points out, there's movement on the union front, though, and partly for that reason, it's just plain been more topical lately, mainly because of pensions, but for other reasons as well. Welfare spending reductions won't do much to help cities and towns like Central Falls, though, unless you're arguing that the state should cut human services and send the money to municipalities to bail out their union deals.

At any rate, I'll believe there might be motion on the human services front when all of the union organizers who are daily in the State House and the papers begin making the arguments that we're starting to hear from the union members 'round here.

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 3, 2011 9:39 PM

Justin, heaven forbid you ever read my blog and left a comment or two. Five years of posts, nothing much has changed, the absolute waste of resources has been and will continue to be well documented there. My views are what they are, and have been solid.

Posted by: michael at August 3, 2011 11:09 PM

What I don't think the union commenters here realize is, not only are we keenly aware of the welfare waste and fraud going on in Rhode Island, but we view it in exactly the same category as the mass disability fraud, overly generous benefits packages, and overtime abuse going on in their very departments. Both instances involve somebody getting handed a big wad of cash from the taxpayers that they didn't earn and don't deserve - beyond that we don't care about whether it's an unemployed heroin addict or a "fire hero" as the recipient. We're principled that way. It's not two separate issues for us - it's the same single systemic problem. And yes, all of it needs to stop for the state to become solvent again.

Posted by: Dan at August 4, 2011 12:02 AM

Dan, I don't think you should be referring to the commentors here as "we." I'd be surprised if more than the usual two actually agree with that last bit of drivel.

Posted by: michael at August 4, 2011 12:43 AM

Michael - You must be blind then. Virtually all of the non-union/non-progressive commenters here have made statements similar or identical to my own. I'm not going to do anything as tedious or moronic as listing them by name, just scroll up or down a few threads to see more of the same. If you want to see a few hundred more, just look at the comments section sometime.

Public opinion doesn't necessarily imply correctness, but you're kidding yourself if you think public opinion is still on your side. It's not the first thing you've kidded yourself about because it makes your life easier (e.g., disability fraud is not a problem, smarter people will figure out the pension problem and it'll all be okay, the ridiculous idea that the entire government would have to collapse before your contract could be voided, etc.).

Posted by: Dan at August 4, 2011 7:45 AM

Actually, in this case, proving your childish accusation wrong ("you have no friends HAHA") is so simple that it's worth taking 30 seconds out of my day.

I'll assume that the only "two" supporters to which you are referring are Tommy Cranston and Mike Capelli, since those are the arbitrary two commenters you always lump me in with. I'll ignore for the moment that Justin's statement is basically supportive of the same principle in this very thread, because he's perfectly capable of speaking for himself on that issue.

Exactly two threads down from this one, commenter Chuck states that "Disability IS the new welfare." Commenter Doug Meisner also stated that disability is a "scam" perpetrated on the taxpayers.

Since you have immense trouble making fine distinctions in your arguments, I'm not arguing that 4 people is a lot of support. I'm saying that your assertion that I have only 2 people here who agree with me is wrong and at least doubly wrong. The actual number is far more, as anybody who isn't willfully ignorant could verify in the matter of minutes by scanning this month's threads.

Posted by: Dan at August 4, 2011 8:15 AM

[[[[ Welfare spending reductions won't do much to help cities and towns like Central Falls, though, unless you're arguing that the state should cut human services and send the money to municipalities to bail; out their union deals. ]]]]

Just send the money that Carcieri held back from municipalities during his term as governor. That's the biggest reason the cities and towns are hurting so much right now.

Pension reform has already begun throughout the state but you people want to throw out contracts and cut the pensions of those already retired. What a joke.

Michael, posting here is a giant waste of your time.

Justin, what's the score now? About 39 to 5?

Posted by: Tom Kenney at August 4, 2011 8:28 AM

Tom Kenney - There is a structural unfunded liability. Not one-time - structural. Meaning your "blame Carrier" argument is basically irrelevant to the reforms being made now to address that structural deficit.

Posted by: Dan at August 4, 2011 8:36 AM

Should be "Carcieri." Smart phone is a bit too smart.

Posted by: Dan at August 4, 2011 8:50 AM

I don't believe that the "structural unfunded liability" label is an accurate one. The cities and towns chose to defer payments no matter how you want to paint it.

Posted by: Tom Kenney at August 4, 2011 8:55 AM

Tom Kenney - Even if those payments had been made (many of which could not have been made in the first place) , costs would continue to exceed revenue and the gap has been getting worse, not better. This is why your exclusive focus on past funds misrepresents the scope and nature of the problem.

Posted by: Dan at August 4, 2011 9:11 AM

Tom, I know, but it sometimes kicks my brain into gear so I can do some real writing.

Dan, you have proven yourself to be an unworthy adversary.

Posted by: michael at August 4, 2011 9:18 AM


You like to call other posters' posts irrelevant. You're not that arrogant are you?

Never mind.....

Posted by: Tom Kenney at August 4, 2011 9:25 AM

Justin-to answer your question, there is no concerted effort on the part of the unions to go after welfare reform to take the focus off of us. I think we are tired of seeing able bodied young men and women walking around with EBT Cards in their pocket and HDTVs in their subsidized apartments. Having children for the sole stated purpose of increasing their monthly pay. When you gently chide these people about working/getting a job they either look at you like your speaking Greek or they verbally attack you for suggesting such a thing (and then call IA to complain about your rude behavior). We see these things daily and then turn on the radio or click on AR and we get attacked! I think the feeling is we work for our money, provide a service to the public, there is far less fraud and abuse in the public sector/union area than in the welfare area and would make for a better target of peoples rage.

Posted by: seirra1 at August 4, 2011 9:25 AM

Michael - Seriously, why even bother here? All you do is take potshots at people and drag the discussion down. Thread after thread, all you offer are insults. You can't possibly think your behavior here is winning friends to your cause.

Tom Kenney - I don't understand your last comment. Unlike Michael's personal attacks, I'm not saying that you are irrelevant. I'm saying that these deferred payments you always post about could not have been fully met in the first place (a big part of why they weren't) and they wouldn't solve the problem without significant structural reforms.

Sierra - It's a false dichotomy. Most of the commenters here are against waste and fraud -period. The difference in time spent on each topic is not indicative of prioritization. It's just proportional to the amount of pushback we receive any time a union member is "attacked" (i.e., exposed for committing disability fraud or retiring at an absurdly young age).

Posted by: Dan at August 4, 2011 9:48 AM's funny how people still blame Carcieri when the problem is really in the GA.

Posted by: JTR at August 4, 2011 10:39 AM

No, union members have not been directed to troll on blogs and push the social services and entitlements line. We dont pay our dues to be brainwashed and have all our thinking done for us.
In fact, aside from myself, I dont think I have seen another "pro union" commentator posting about it at all. I pretty much drop the 3.4 billion number every chance I get and for no other reason than because its staggering. Nearly HALF our state budget. The number is so large, that a mere 20% reducution in it could be the answer to all our problems in this state.

Dont look at this as a union attempt to shift focus. Its not. I have in fact conceded that some pension reforms are indeed in order. I am not at all saying, dont look at unions because the dreggs of society cost us more etc.

I AM saying that this is more than just a talking point. This is an actual solution. More so than only exerting pressure on unions for concessions and pension reform which is all thats being done now.
Furthermore, we're fond of calling for shared sacrifce. Well, who at this point can deny that public workers are sacrificing? Concessions, furloughs, wage reductions, retirement reforms, healthcare increases etc.. The only people not sacrificing are those who cost us most, social service and entitelment abusers.

I find it amazing that some of you view cops and firefighters to be as much a plague on society as welfare abusers. To say cops and firefighter do nothing to deserve their compensation and retirement plans is a rather ridiculous statement. Maybe Im focusing on the hyperbol here but I could atleast understand an argument that says perhaps compensation and benefits are for the most part are deserved but are perhaps more than we can afford. I could even understand the argument that you think we are perhaps a bit over compensated. But to say we do nothing to deserve our compensation and we are as a whole no better than those who perpetrate outright fraud againts social programs is rather ludacris.

Before you drop the name Sauro, please know I admit their have been those working union members who have exploited a system as well however, despite popular belief, those few are an exception to the rule. The vast majority of disability pensions were issued at a time when equipment was substandard. They peaked in the early 90's. These were guys who didnt have breathing apparatus until the last years of their careers, they rode in open cab trucks or on backsteps and were tossed from vehicles (the cause of a LODD in warwick on the 80's or 90's) Two men lifted entire stretchers into the backs of station wagons, unlike since the mid 90's when 1.5 man stretchers came on line where the stretcher is latched into the truck thus taking half the weight from those lifting. I cant tell you how many guys backs were destroyed buy the lifting and twisting motion of loading patients into ambulances. Say nothing of plymovent exhaust vents which suck the soot from the diesel trucks when they start or run in the truck bays. Before them soot lined both the walls of stations and the lungs of firefighters. These are but a few examples.
Its these types of things that people like Dan never understand about our job. Dan, you have conviction and concern which I admire but you are operating on assumptions and myths and on so few facts that I cant help but dismiss your arguments. You are an intelligent guy, I challenge you to educate yourself on firefighting and the the history of it. Read and watch videos at Keep abreast of the LODD's and the burns and injuries that occure nationwide. At the very least, you will learn to not compare us to social service fraudsters on the public dole and contributing nothing. Mayber after you wont make such ridiculous statements and some of us can take you seriously.

Posted by: Rich at August 4, 2011 2:08 PM

"I dont think I have seen another "pro union" commentator posting about it at all."

Michael, Sierra, and Tom Kenney, all public union members, have made essentially the same prioritization argument about welfare within the past few days. Actually, all you have to do is scroll up in this thread. Maybe it's just coincidence, but it certainly looks like a bandwagon.

"To say cops and firefighter do nothing to deserve their compensation and retirement plans is a rather ridiculous statement."

Nobody is saying that. Please don't misunderstand me, I respect police and firemen the same as any other profession. I feel that I have been very clear that it's the fraud and unsustainable early retirement options that need to end.

"I admit their have been those working union members who have exploited a system as well however, despite popular belief, those few are an exception to the rule."

I cannot believe that the numbers of disabled cops and firemen are legitimate. I'm sorry, but 58% disability pensions for the Providence Fire Department is literally incredible and prima facie evidence of fraud. Even half that would be extremely high, even compared to other fire departments, so it's not just the technology. Tom and Michael say that this is left over from what they call the "bad years" of the department and assure us that the numbers are way down now. Well, good, but two problems - the number has increased from 2006, not decreased, and those people are still collecting bogus disability pensions! It needs to stop, and the union should be leading the charge.

Posted by: Dan at August 4, 2011 3:13 PM

Dan is the poster boy for "say it often enough and it becomes true".

[[[[ ...but 58% disability pensions for the Providence Fire Department...the number has increased from 2006, not decreased... ]]]]

The REAL TRUTH is the number went from over 90% in the mid and late 90's to approximately 15% - 19% over the last several years.

When those high numbers from the 90's are factored in with the new below average for the fire service numbers the total percentage of the PFD retirees still on disability pensions is around 58%. You can't bring down the entire percentage to 15% until all of those who retired in the 90's die off.

So for whoever stated that he was an intelligent man, I take exception.

Posted by: Tom Kenney at August 4, 2011 4:06 PM

Tom Kenney - My comment is 100% accurate and totally consistent with what you just wrote, so don't go on a tirade about the "REAL TRUTH" like I'm telling lies. I actually gave you the benefit of the doubt with those numbers and accepted them for the sake of argument. It's not my fault if you lack the reading comprehension skills to understand what I'm actually saying. Apparently that's the case.

My actual argument, which goes right over Tom's head, is that it is irresponsible to turn a blind eye and simply wait for people receiving fraudulent disability to die off. That will take decades. They should be investigated today and have their disability payments revoked immediately after they receive due process.

Disability isn't supposed to be a synonym for "injury," by the way. It's supposed to mean too injured to hold a job.

Posted by: Dan at August 4, 2011 4:36 PM

Your numbers are pure fantasy!!!

You talk like you're the only one with any brains and I'm telling you that your ego got in the way of your brainwaves long ago.

I and other pro-union people have stated that we'd like to see any scammers removed from the pension rolls and prosecuted.

You, on the other hand, won't be happy until they're all off the rolls. You KNOW how much scamming is going on. Well you're one awfully talented A......

Posted by: Tom Kenney at August 4, 2011 6:31 PM

Yes, I'm taking your insults personally. How else could I take them.

And...just for the couldn't shine the shoes of most of the men and women I work with! And that's a fact!

Posted by: Tom Kenney at August 4, 2011 6:33 PM

Tom Kenney - Stop running your hateful, ignorant mouth and listen for a moment. I'm telling you that you are literally not understanding what I am saying. I have assumed *your* numbers for the sake of argument, so if my numbers are "fantasy," then yours are too. You acknowledge yourself that 58% of current retirees from your department receive disability pensions. I understand the history of this system as you have described it to me. I'm saying it's still a huge problem and many of these pensions should be revoked. Not all of them, some. Not when they die, now.

Will somebody from the union side please explain to Tom how foolish he looks right now arguing with somebody who is not contradicting anything he is saying?

Posted by: Dan at August 4, 2011 6:50 PM

I have never worked in the public sector, but I just don't understand how any kind of "full disability" pension could ever be awarded to someone who was actually able to work. Not work the first choice job of their choosing, but actually work at all. People are living a lot longer than in generations past, and without vilifying anyone, it just doesn't make any rational sense. If a firefighter or police officer becomes injured to the point they can't perform their duties, but they are otherwise healthy and able to work, why not provide a stipend for other training until they are able to find work or eventually transition them to TDI and unemployment and leave their pension intact until they reach retirement age? None of us are guaranteed anything in this life.

Posted by: Bucket Chick at August 4, 2011 10:15 PM

Bucket Chick, I can understand this argument. I do think that what is considered a career ending injury might be a bar set too low. However, the fact remains, firefighting and police work on any given day is a ultra hazardous and unavoidably dangerous occupation. Not every day, no. But on any given day we might be killed doing this. Now, that is what it is, dont criticize for claiming we are heroes. IM NOT. But I can tell you this, considering the inherent dangers in these occupations you wouldnt have as many if any applicants if when you applied you were told:

If, at some point, as a direct result of you executing the duties you are sworn to effect, you become dismembered, unable to walk or run or lift things, breath, or suffer a diminished quality of life, to the point you are no longer able to excecute the duties you are sworn to. Dont worry, we'll send you to data entry school and give you unemployment for awhile. At the very least, you will get a quarter of the salary you and your familiy depend on in the form of SSDI.

Further more, if you are fortunate enough to avoid a life altering injury (which most of you will be) You still wont be able to physically do this job past 50-55 so its in everyones best interest that you quit by then. You wont have a pension or be able to "retire" so at 55 you are going to have to re-enter the work force with no experience in any other field except firefighting. Because we all know the private sector loves to hire 55 year olds with no experience.

I understand your argument and in most cases Id agree. When it comes to police fire and military however, fault me if you wish but I consider these occupations as an exception.

Posted by: Rich at August 5, 2011 12:12 AM

New State Motto:
"Work for 20,
collect for 40"

Posted by: bob at August 5, 2011 2:22 AM

Rich - I don't think most here would disagree with fair disability compensation as a concept. The problem is that many treat it like their birthright and get rubber stamped through a corrupt process, using their "hero" status as a shield to deflect scrutiny.

There are very few "dismemberment" injuries compared with the more common "my back hurts." If we got the outrageous 58% disability rate down to human levels and instituted a few common sense reforms to restore disability to its original (or at least stated) purpose, I suspect there would be very little criticism. Can you really disagree with that? If I were in the union I'd be outraged at the abuse.

Posted by: Dan at August 5, 2011 8:20 AM

I'd consider giving up my left arm for the four crushed discs. Honestly.

Posted by: michael at August 5, 2011 1:57 PM
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