"To its credit, a Freeps report published last Sunday acknowledged that 98 percent of retired public employees in Vermont are receiving less than $25,000 a year."
And this really is the most important point. A majority of VT public employees are not living the high life off their state pensions, contrary to popular belief.
You Can Take It to the Bank
Woe to the taxpayer who is shouldering the burden of “wealthy” public pensioners and other costs associated with collective bargaining and those dastardly unions.
That’s the message coming from the national media, and now the Burlington Free Press is jumping on the public-employee-bashing bandwagon.
To its credit, a Freeps report published last Sunday  acknowledged that 98 percent of retired public employees in Vermont are receiving less than $25,000 a year. Far more sensational was the list of top 100 public pensioners. In the No.1 spot is former judge Dean Pineles, with an annual pension of nearly $98,000.
The Freeps report, which was fairly comprehensive, raised some good questions about whether employees should be allowed to pad their pay with overtime in the years prior to retirement as a way to inflate their pensions.
Buried in the story, however, was something “Fair Game” had reported previously: State employees and teachers have been making concessions to cover shortfalls in the pension system. In a vote earlier this year, state employees agreed to kick in an additional 1.3 percent toward their retirement during the next five years. A bill slated for passage this session would codify that into law.
Many state employees have also taken pay cuts ranging from 3 to 5 percent, effectively lowering the payout amount if they were to retire now.
Gannett workers should be able to empathize. Gannett, which owns the Freeps, regularly furloughs employees and directs them to collect state unemployment funds during their time off. The same public source provides severance for laid-off workers. Ah, yes, privatize gains and socialize losses — that’s the American Way.
While collective bargaining and public-employee salaries are under attack throughout the country, few people are putting hedge-fund managers, Wall Street financiers or rating agencies on the spot.
Even Gov. Peter Shumlin, who opposes raising taxes on the state’s highest earners , has repeatedly said it’s not “hardworking Vermonters” who are to blame for the economic collapse. At a recent press conference, the gov noted, “It’s the greed on Wall Street that left the bill on Main Street that got us into this mess.”
Ironically, Shumlin delivered that assessment just 24 hours before he was scheduled to meet with folks on Wall Street. The purpose? To talk up the state’s finances in hopes of securing a solid bond rating.
Would the gov find the right moment to tell Moody’s it was to blame for the mess? “Fair Game” inquired. He said he would.
“If you want me to, I’m happy to tell them they are part of the problem. Don’t quote me on this, there’s no press around,” Shumlin jokingly told a roomful of reporters, lobbyists and staffers. “But the ratings agencies helped us to get into the mess.”
Not surprisingly, Shumlin didn’t bring up the role of the ratings agencies in the financial collapse during informal talks with execs, according to his top staffers. Instead, they talked about … the sandwiches being served for lunch, not how much Wall Street gobbled up in Vermont’s pensions.
Vermont’s pension funds lost about $1.5 billion during the economic collapse — or roughly one-third of their value, according to the state treasurer’s office. The funds’ value peaked at $3.6 billion in October 2007 and bottomed out at $2.1 billion in February 2009. As of late February, the funds had almost fully rebounded. Only about 1.1 percent, or $36 million, of the state’s pension system was tied up in “toxic assets” — subprime mortgages and credit-default swaps — before the market crash.
Good news, right? Not quite.
“The bad news is that if the systems had simply earned their actuarially assumed rates of return of 8.25 percent for the teachers and state employees systems, and 8 percent for the municipal employees system, since October 2007, the pensions’ combined balances would be well in excess of $4 billion by now,” Deputy State Treasurer Stephen Wisloski told “Fair Game.”
Um, $400 million was “lost” to Wall Street shenanigans, and we’re ogling the annual income of the top 100 pensioners? Really?
Getting that $400 million back won’t be easy.
Lawsuits against ratings agencies by other states haven’t been successful, notes Wisloski. The agencies have used the First Amendment as a defense — claiming bond ratings are “opinions” and therefore protected speech.
Hey, Wall Street, here are two other words protected by the First Amendment: F&#& you.