Framing the Dialogue

Big Brother’s Fault

First off, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

house of cardsIt would be nice to start off fresh this new year with a new beginning as the new year baby is supposed to signify.  As with most symbols reality has a way of creeping in.  An article in our hometown “conservative” newspaper has me shaking my head mostly because it was written locally and as such had the opportunity to set some of the record straight and illustrate to the masses the flaws of big government.  They failed.

The article titled “Retirement Contribution Account For Big Increase” is essentially a series of quotes from local school districts lamenting the increased costs associated with their commitments for employee retirement funds.  First for those of you not living in Pennsylvania, our school districts are not county-wide as in most parts of the country.  Local areas  can have independent school districts as is the case where I live while some municipalities join together to form larger districts.  The desire is to have local autonomy and control.  One of the main factors that we considered when we moved here was the top-notch school district and its consistently high rankings.

So in Pennsylvania like the rest of the country local governments and school districts are struggling to pay for the commitments that they made to their employees.  As I said, the local districts are autonomous in their negotiations with their employees a majority of whom are teachers.  They get to make their deals with the teachers.  Neither the state nor federal government interferes.  Now with a poor economy the price is getting too high for many districts and they are looking to blame others;

“The state should have been replacing the money with stimulus funds a few years back”

“districts also are suffering from a lack of reimbursements for building projects.  West Jefferson Hills officials are looking at building a new $70 million high school…and taking away our (construction) reimbursement money.”

fThe essence of big government whether it’s state or federal or even local is that there are budgets.  When you rely on “big brother” he sometimes doesn’t fund you.  These districts ponied up and acquiesced to their employees and committed to big contracts and now it is time to pay.  Rather than looking forward a few years ago to the impending fiscal crisis as some districts did many just continue to complain that big brother is not giving enough money.  Big brother is like a drug dealer…the first one is free until you are hooked.  In this case the school district junkies fix may cost too much.

I happen to belong to the same retirement system as most of Pennsylvania’s teachers though our accounts are separate.  I don’t know details about their local contributions or individual contributions, but my colleagues and I pay about 6.5 percent of our salary into our retirement system.  The employer is also supposed to contribute to our retirement system.  The fiscal health of our retirement of our system is also in distress.  While the employee contributions have been consistent, about 14 years ago then Governor Tom Ridge (R) stopped make the employer contributions.  His successor, Ed Rendell (D) was only too happy to use the money and differ the employer payments to a later date.  Now Governor Tom Corbett (R) is left holding the bag and is taking a lot of hear for “making cuts to education” while he is actually trying to make logical fiscal decisions.

I suspect that school districts did the same thing and either didn’t contribute as they are supposed to do or more likely relied on state and/or federal tax money to pay the bill.  Most likely the kids and employees with suffer because the folks in charge didn’t do what they were paid to do.  It is unfortunate that those who made the poor decisions will not bear any cost and hope to kick the can further down the road.

“Members are considering applying to the state Department of Education for exceptions to get some relief from the PSERS payments…”

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