CINCINNATI, Ohio - -What do you call a proposal that breaks promises to city workers, destroys their family's hard-earned retirement security, lowers the city's tax base, harms our fragile economy and actually requires the city to pay out more in retiree funds?
The tiny group of wealthy financiers, tea party supporters and out-of-town petitioners sponsoring this ridiculous proposal are calling it by the misleading name of Cincinnatians for Pension Reform (CPR). However, unlike the medical procedure with the same initials, this one would kill its patient!
Who is behind CPR?
If you said, "It can't be Cincinnatians, our own hometown folks would never push something this bad," then you are actually right on the money!
What about the 7,000 signatures filed by "Cincinnatians for Pension Reform"? Actually, that phony group paid nearly $70,000 to the California company Arno Petition Consultants to bring in and house out-of-town petitioners in order for them to collect the signatures needed to qualify for ballot status.
Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, said financial backing for the proposal is "shady" and "difficult to verify because election laws allow these groups to use nonprofit groups to mask the direct source of contributions." It wasn't easy, but we have learned where much of the funding for CPR has come from so far.
Paul Jacob, of the Virginia-based extremist tea party group Liberty Initiative Fund, which has funded similar anti-retiree measures in other cities, has put over $81,000 into CPR thus far. (Among other things, Jacobs has called for the abolition of Social Security.) The conservative California-based National Taxpayer's Union has put in another $52,000.
So, on one side we have out-of-state funders that want to kill Social Security and see our cities in bankruptcy, phony front groups, out-of-town petitioners paid by a California company, and the extremist tea party. Who is on the other side?
Who opposes CPR?
The answer is just about everyone else!
The opposition to CPR is both nonpartisan and bipartisan. The Faith Alliance, a wide coalition of many different churches and communities of faith, has taken a strong stand against CPR. Both major mayoral candidates, Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley, oppose CPR, and Cincinnati's City Council voted unanimously to oppose it. All unions, representing workers of all stripes, public and private workers, as well production, service, craft and building trades workers, are all against this horrible proposal. The Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans, the organization of actual retirees who'd be hard hit by CPR is working to defeat it.
Why is there a "crisis"?
According to the out-of-state funders and tea party extremists it is the greedy public workers who are grabbing our public tax money so they can live high on the hog who caused a "crisis." That's why we need to break our promises of retiree security to them and their families, and if we just do that, these groups say, we'll save the city and live happily ever after!
Economic experts, as well as regular people, say different!
First of all, the economic crises of 2001 and 2008 created problems of debt not just for Cincinnati, but also for every city in our nation.
The last two state budgets have included huge cuts to all Ohio cities, including Cincinnati. Years of giving tax abatements to businesses have also badly hurt our city's finances and undermined the public retirement system. Outsourcing public services, like that of the Fountain Square operations and public golf courses, have led our city to undermine these services and pay non-public workers who are not paying into the city's retirement system. It also undermined our city's tax base.
Public as well as private pension funds used to be required to be fully funded. Unfortunately, Congress changed that under the influence of huge corporations, who argued that pension funds were "unproductive" and that if they could just be "freed up and used productively" pensions would be "more secure" and "better funded." Our city, like many others, drew on many of those funds, undermining the city workers' pension funding.
While nobody likes taxes, sometimes when a wide variety of pressures undercut our city's ability to function, tax levies might actually be needed. Whether that is the case in Cincinnati's situation or not, the fetish of certain politicians who have been running our city for so long to never, ever even consider these options, and to immediately attack anyone who might raise the idea, made any ability to even talk about strengthening our city's tax base impossible.
Cincinnatians know that these problems are real. We need to come together to find ways to actually resolve them. CPR is no solution! It would make the situation much worse.
What would CPR actually do?
This proposal, if passed, would do many things. None of them, however, include "saving the city from bankruptcy!"
- First and foremost, for the city workers, being pushed from real pensions into 401ks would mean being thrown onto the tender mercies of the stock market. Anyone who had their retirement funds in one of those things when the economy nose-dived knows what that means. A recent joint study by the Employee Benefits Research Institute and the Investment Company Institute found that U.S. workers with 401ks lost on the average 24.3% of their invested funds in 2008, the year of the last stock market downturn. That means exchanging retiree security for insecurity!
That created a massive loss of Cincinnatians' buying power, translating into huge losses for businesses, especially small businesses, and yet another blow to Cincinnati's tax base.
- The city would be required to start buying into Social Security if CPR passes, which it does not do now. That would require payments of 6.2%, far higher than the 1.8% the city currently pays into the city retirement system, a massive increase, not a savings, for city expenditures.
- City workers would lose the disability retirement benefits and death benefits they now have, another blow to city workers, their families and our economy, again undermining the city's tax base.
- By closing the city's retirement plan, Cincinnati would have to cover the $862 debt the city has, in the next 20 years instead of the current 30 years, a new terrible burden on the city.
All of the above means far less retirement security, more, not less, city debt, multiple blows to our economy which will force more people onto public aid services - again, harming, not helping, our city.
What it would actually be is yet another blow to working families! The Wall Street financiers who run the 401ks would once again make out like bandits, gambling with our retirement savings on the stock market, while regular families again are duped and take another horrible hit to their already weakened financial situation.
We can do a lot! We, the people of Cincinnati, are really the ones who have the final say! Our friends and neighbors who are police and firefighters saw last year that when these wealthy outside interests "exclude" them from their organized attacks on other people's retirement security, it is actually only a way to divide us up. In fact, their hard-earned benefits will be the next target!
Our friends and neighbors, regular folks, water and sewer workers, the folks that keep our streets clean and pick up our garbage, keep the street lights on and keep our parks beautiful, people that keep our food safe and the nurses that help our kids at school, are NOT the ones who created any "crisis." We can stand up with them, refuse to be divided once again, one against another, by wealthy outside special interests!
We can talk to our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers and let them know what a scam CPR really is. If you belong to a church, veteran's organization, neighborhood group, block watch, PTA, union, sports or social club, speak out and let them all know what they stand to lose if CPR passes. Finally, if you'd like to take up the fight to defeat CPR, working with retirees who are already working on this important campaign, contact Bentley Davis, state coordinator for the Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans, at 513-827-1832 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: John Rummel/PW