Only 5 DAYS Remain
Until the Signature Deadline

Remember how badly you felt a couple years back, when you heard we lost the teachers union court challenge by a mere 26 signatures? This came after completion of the petition drive then six months of hand-to-hand combat with the battalion of teachers union lawyers over each and every signature.

Remember how badly you felt, because you just knew you could have done a little bit more -- you yourself could have provided those lousy 26 signatures?

Some of you knew that if you had gone out even for just one hour you could have saved the day, saved the drive!

"If only I had it to do over again," we heard from so many.

This is the last weekend to make a difference. Next Wednesday is the deadline to turn in all petitions to the city and town clerks across the state for certification.

After next Wednesday, no excuse will mean anything and nobody will be listening to them. Either we will have enough signatures to make it onto the November ballot ... or we will not, the more than 200,000 signatures we've collected over the last four years will have been all for nothing, and the income tax increase will remain forever ... until the next one.

This can only succeed if it's a team effort. We hope you are doing your part to get us there.

Thanks much to those who have been ... and to those of you who will be this weekend.

If we don't get the promised tax rollback on the ballot, if our money remains on the pols' table, they will spend every cent of it driving us into another fiscal crisis ... that will require another "temporary" tax hike to bail us out. If you doubt this, read about the "public service" employee "early retirement" boom on the horizon -- because the money is there!

It's now, or never folks. It's up to you.

This is your last call, minuteman.

Chip Ford

PS.  If you have uncertified petitions in your possession, get them to the appropriate city/town clerks no later than 5:00 PM next Wednesday. The clerk will give you a receipt in exchange. Do NOT go back for your petition!

Mail your receipt immediately to CLT, PO Box 408, Peabody, MA 01960. OUR DRIVERS WILL PICK UP YOUR PETITION(S).

7.  The early teacher retirement bill will be highly contagious. How do you say "No" to other government employees with stressful jobs who don't even have summers off?

Point 7 of 8 Point CLT Memo
to the Legislature Opposing
Proposed Teachers Union "Early Retirement" Scheme
June 14, 2000

The Boston Globe
Friday, June 16, 2000

Teachers' retirement plan eyed by others
Cellucci fears shortfall as other public employees
plan to seek better benefits

By Michael Crowley
Globe Staff

As Beacon Hill lawmakers prepare to approve a measure allowing thousands of public school teachers to retire early with sweetened pension benefits, a host of other public employee unions are now asking: What about us?

To the dismay of the Cellucci administration and fiscal watchdogs, union lobbyists are using the teacher retirement measure's imminent passage as ammunition to shoot for similar treatment.

"I would like to see something move, seeing where the teachers are getting theirs now," said Bob McCarthy, president of the Professional Firefighters Association of Massachusetts, which represents 13,000 members. "It makes sense that if they do it for one [group], there's going to be pressure from other employees," McCarthy said.

That pressure is already being felt at the State House, where last week, prison guards lobbied for a more generous package that would let them retire up to five years early with full pension benefits.

And police officers are joining with firefighters to push legislation letting them retire with a so-called 75/25 benefit: after 25 years of service, regardless of age, they would receive 75 percent of their pay.

It's an annual ritual for public employee unions to bang on lawmakers' doors seeking earlier retirement ages with more generous pension benefits. But with Massachusetts teachers almost certain to enjoy bigger pensions and retirements long before age 60, many say a me-too attitude from other unions will be hard to dispute.

"There's going to be an extraordinary amount of pressure placed on every elected official to recalibrate everyone's pensions," says House Public Service Committee chairman Paul Casey (D-Winchester).

To some, that new dynamic is cause for alarm, bringing the potential for enormous stress on the state's pension funds, as well as state and local budgets. It is estimated the teacher bill alone would cost the state about $50 million per year.

What's more, critics fear that other early retirement bills might cause a sudden shortage of key workers in other areas of state and local government.

Governor Paul Cellucci has vetoed the teacher retirement bill, which he says is too expensive and would drain needed veteran teachers from the state's classrooms. But the Legislature, which unanimously approved the measure, is expected to override the veto easily this month.

"This is only the beginning," says Michael Widmer, executive director of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a business-funded group that monitors the state budget. "Once we start down this path it's going to be very difficult to argue that other groups are less-deserving than teachers."

Indeed, the teacher bill's backers have argued that educators deserve special treatment because they work under great duress and play a critical social role. But critics of the measure warn that the same logic can be applied to tens of thousands of other public employees -- from nurses to highway engineers -- who also hold admirable and difficult jobs.

"There is a fairness issue," said Cellucci spokesman John Birtwell. "How do you value the contribution of one worker over another worker?"

To the firefighters' McCarthy, there's scant reason to give teachers preferential treatment. "We put our lives on the line, and our bodies deteriorate quicker, too," he says. "It's a more strenuous job."

At the moment, McCarthy says he is lobbying House leaders to act on a bill approved earlier this year by the Legislature's Joint Public Service Committee. The bill would provide the 75/25 benefits to all public safety workers in the state pension category known as Group 4.

Group 4 employees can now retire as young as 45, but if they do, they collect a pension equal to less than half their salary. The new measure would allow for even earlier retirements, but more significantly, dramatically boost benefit levels for early retirees -- a potential difference of tens of thousands of dollars per year to some pensioners.

Most state employees, classified as Group 1, must work until they are 65 before reaching their maximum pension benefit level.

McCarthy said he hopes the measure comes to the House floor before the July 31 end of the legislative session, but that it might have to wait until next year.

Backers of new pension plans for public safety officers give vague answers when asked about the price of such changes, saying much of the cost can be offset by increased worker contributions.

But local government representatives say there is grave concern that possible mass retirements could create personnel shortages and costly new pension mandates from Beacon Hill.

Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, noted that local governments must pay the pensions of police officers, firefighters, and other categories of workers who may be seeking new benefits. Cities and towns will also have to pick up health care costs for teachers who retire early, he added.

"One of the questions posed here by the early retirement bill for teachers is whether it is just a big domino that will knock down other dominoes, in a line of retirement bills that will collapse our pension system," Beckwith said.

He added that his greatest concern was that advocates of early retirement bills had not carefully examined their impact, and noted that there has yet to be a thorough study of the proposed teacher retirement plan.

"Because it seems obscure, because it's a pension plan and peoples' eyes glaze over, there's not as much scrutiny as there needs to be," he said. "But we're talking about billions of dollars of taxpayers' and public employees' money."

The Telegram & Gazette
Worcester, Mass.
Thursday, June 15, 2000

A crucial veto
Retirement bill would undermine public education

We continue to be astounded by the eerie silence accompanying the Legislative action on a misguided early retirement benefit for teachers.

The proposal, given top priority by teachers unions, would make 8,500 veteran teachers -- many in their early to mid-50s -- eligible to retire immediately, and 23,000 more within five years.

The measure would have far-reaching negative consequences -- not only in the public schools, but, ultimately, throughout municipal and state government. Yet, except for Gov. Paul Cellucci, few elected officials have had the courage to speak out against it.

In vetoing the measure on Sunday, Mr. Cellucci said, "This legislation represents an abandonment of education reform and our schoolchildren by the Legislature."

Indeed, the measure would spark an exodus of experienced educators at a crucial juncture of education reform and at a time when Massachusetts faces a shortage of teachers. At the same time, it would inequitably boost the pension contribution of teachers entering the system.

Although the actual costs are unknown, the retirement perk could add as much as $1 billion to state pension costs over the next 20 years. After 30 years in the classroom, many retirees conceivably could draw from the pension fund for the next 30, 40 or more years.

Finding qualified replacements would be a huge problem for local officials -- but hardly the only one.

Early retirement for teachers, if enacted, certainly would bring demands for similar benefits from other public employee unions. The long-term impact on municipal budgets would be substantial.

Yet the package sailed through the Legislature, on uncontested voice votes. As one Statehouse observer noted, "The Legislature has devoted more debate to the state bird and the state cookie."

Respected organizations, including the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association and the Massachusetts Municipal Association, have sounded warnings about the measure. However, Mr. Cellucci -- virtually alone among elected officials -- has attempted to stop, or at least slow, the legislative juggernaut.

A legislative vote for the retirement bill would have serious consequences in public education and throughout municipal and state government. Lawmakers should do the right thing and uphold the governor's veto.

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