A story from the Baton Rouge Advocate Sunday shows what we’re up against if we’re ever going to get Louisiana’s fiscal house in order.
State Rep. James Armes, D-Leesville, expressed concerns Thursday that the Jindal administration’s retirement package could impact his home life.
At issue was Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal that would force some state employees to work until they are 67 instead of retiring at a younger age. Excluded from the new rules would be state employees who currently are age 55 or older.
Armes questioned how that would affect his 52-year-old wife, who is a school nurse. He said she wants to retire at age 55.
“I’ve got to go home and tell her she’s got to wait until she’s 67? My anniversary’s next week. I don’t believe I’ll live that long,” he said.
Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater said Armes’ wife would be excluded as a school district employee.
“You’ll be able to go home tonight and tell her she’ll be able to retire,” he told Armes.
“I want that in writing,” Armes said.
The issue isn’t that Armes is afraid of his wife. One imagines he’s half-joking about her reaction to the new retirement rules. It’s ugly enough that instead of focusing on the policy questions involved all he seems to care about is his own household – that’s for another post.
The issue is that Armes’ wife, who might be a perfectly nice lady and who, as Rainwater notes, isn’t affected by the proposed retirement rule changes anyway since she works for the school district in Leesville rather than the state government anyway, is one of thousands of public employees in Louisiana who have been told they can retire at 55 on a full pension without the state government (or local governments, for that matter) ultimately imploding from debt.
Armes’ wife could conceivably live for 25 years on that pension she’ll start to draw in 2015. Assuming she started work as a school nurse at 22, right out of college (and we don’t know that to be a valid assumption), she could have put in 33 years of work to draw retirement for 25 years. Or maybe more.
That’s not even remotely sustainable.
Tell that to many state employees, though, and you will be drowned in invective and wishful thinking. You’ll hear that the pension plans, which combined are underfunded by some $20 billion, would be fine if the state government hadn’t raided them.
But nobody has any solution for the idea that you can work 33 years and then live on a comfortable retirement for 25 years – unless you’re making a killing while you’re working.
And nobody in state government will admit they’re making a killing working for the government. They’re all underpaid.
If Jindal’s proposals pass and some state employees have to work 12 more years to get a pension, it’s understandable they might not be too happy about it. But as Chris Christie tells the public-employee unions in New Jersey, that’s not Jindal’s fault. It’s the fault of the politicians who came before him who made ridiculous, unworkable promises to state employees that these sweetheart pension arrangements could go on forever.
And at the end of the day the system won’t just collapse because of the promises. The whole idea of a pension is unworkable to begin with, because a pension plan which is tied to a particular job traps its user into working at that job. Individual accounts based on contributions rather than benefits are portable; the state pension plans are not. And they make state employment something akin to a long-distance run; you don’t have to be good at your job or enjoy it, but rather you just need to stick around long enough that you can get vested – and then you can get paid for doing nothing the rest of your life.
Not much of a mentality that situation engenders.
State employment should be as interchangeable with private-sector employment as possible. The entitlement mentality which has Armes screaming shows that we have a great deal of work to do in this regard.