As summer officially arrives, I understand and relate
to the desire to forget about politics and set aside citizen outrage
until Labor Day.
Maybe if I were retired on a pension of $140,000 like the Brockton cop
who scammed the pension system, I could escape to someplace without
news, where ignorance would be bliss. Join me in my fantasy if you want.
OK, that was fun. But time-out is over and reality is still here. There
is no escape, and even if there were, my prospective Social Security
check won't cover it.
Private sector working people: To fully appreciate this column, check
your annual letter from the Social Security Administration that tells
you what your monthly check will be when you are finally eligible for
full benefits sometime after age 65.
Add any monthly amount you might get from any private sector pension, if
you work for a company that still provides them, and if you think it
will still be there for you when you retire. Add anything extra you
might have saved or wisely invested. See if it adds up to $11,648.99 a
Naturally, as a taxpayer activist, aware of how my tax dollars are
wasted, I've taken as many tax breaks as possible. Each year my
accountant friend tells me how much tax-deductible income I can put in
my personal bank IRA. He wants me to use a Roth-IRA, pay taxes now but
withdraw it tax-free. Pardon my paranoia, but I don't trust the
government to keep that promise either.
Not too far down the road, when national, state and local governments
crash into the unfunded "fixed benefit" pension, lifetime health
insurance, Social Security-Medicare liability, national debt wall, Ted
Kennedy will bellow that we must "tax the rich," defined as all those
people who have money in a Roth IRA. My accountant friend says this
cannot happen, that there would be a revolution.
Really? Then let's practice revolting now, over the revolting Brockton
cop and his revolting pension. Let's make Charlie Bradshaw Lincoln the
Clarabel Ventura — remember her? the welfare mom whose abuses sparked
welfare reform? — of pension reform.
The story began with a report from Inspector General Greg Sullivan about
one Charles Bradshaw Lincoln, who was a Brockton policeman and a
security officer for Plymouth County at the same time, for the final
three years of employment that count toward a pension. Naturally he also
found time to do "paid details." In order to fit this all in, he called
in sick from his cop job — 251 times. His pension is now $11,648.99 a
month — similar to what many taxpayers who provide it may get from
Social Security in a year. He gets heavily subsidized health insurance
too, without waiting for Medicare at 65 like we peasants do.
Yes, we must blame Lincoln himself for scamming the system; Sullivan
recommends that his pension be recalculated by "subtracting the total
value of his fraudulent sick days." But of course the real fault lies
with the politicians who created the public pension system for the
benefit of themselves and their friends.
The Pioneer Institute has just
released a white paper that explains how the system works and lists
the many abuses. Note that the median retiree is 58 years old, not 66,
and gets nearly $27,000 after just 22 years. Far above the median, you
have Charlie Lincoln and Billy Bulger, who gets almost $180,000 a year.
Early in my taxpayer activist career, I was invited to address a class
of graduate students at UMass-Boston. Many in the class were public
employees, and one of them told me that if I wanted to address state
spending, I should do something about state pensions. He explained that
they too easily become the reason for either choosing or for staying in
a government job, with the goodies at the end of the relatively short
road a reward for going along to get along.
I'd hoped that limiting and cutting taxes would create an incentive to
address at least the abuses. But easy money in the form of tax hikes can
cover any abuses and then encourage more, and they have.
Heading into his campaign for president in 1988, Gov. Michael Dukakis
balanced his state budget by raiding the state pension fund. When
Dukakis returned to Massachusetts, several tax hikes covered the abuse,
and allowed the pension liability to drop again. We are still paying for
that with a higher income tax rate.
Pioneer makes several recommendations for reform, some of which are
being proposed by Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey as part of her gubernatorial
campaign. You might take it on vacation instead of the awful James
Patterson beach books.
According to Pioneer, we taxpayers have paid billions of dollars beyond
what a fair and reasonable system would cost. If anyone asks you how the
state would pay for the voter-mandated income tax rollback, pension
reform is one answer.
While we're at it, let's allow paid sick days only for sick people, and
fire anyone who cheats and lies.
Summer is coming. Huckleberry Finn, make room on the raft for me.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.