Via a well-placed source, we’ve obtained a copy of a letter sent to members of the Louisiana State Troopers Association by the LSTA’s executive director David Young in answer to the hue and cry those members have raised about that organization’s endorsement of John Bel Edwards a week ago. We reported on the controversy earlier this week, and our story generated no small amount of attention.
As it turns out, Young’s letter can serve as an admission that (1) the endorsement was an extraordinary action by the LSTA, which by tradition does not endorse political candidates and its members are likely barred by the State Police Commission rules from participating in public endorsement, and (2) the endorsement was made by the LSTA board without polling the members.
The letter does not put the question of the endorsement to bed. It merely offers a public, or semi-public, pretext for it.
Unfortunately, the membership isn’t buying the justification offered by Young. We’ve received a mountain of communication about the endorsement and a great amount of suspicion that there are other factors at work.
Even notwithstanding this, though, the justification for the endorsement is more than a little unsavory. Essentially, the LSTA board has reduced its members to the status of hogs at the public trough by basing its endorsement on opposition to public pension reforms David Vitter favors. Louisiana’s unfunded accrued pension liability is over $20 billion and growing, and Vitter is in favor of moving state employees to a defined contribution plan instead of a pension program the state simply can’t afford. The private sector abandoned pensions long ago, but moving away from them in the public sector has proven a Herculean task across the country even despite the clear impossibility of ever satisfying the obligations.
This reasoning apparently doesn’t move the LSTA, if its justification for the endorsement is to be taken at face value. Here is the letter…
On Sunday, November 15, 2015 5:13 PM, David Young wrote:
Per request from your President and President-elect, below is an explanation of the Board’s decision to endorse John Bel Edwards:
The mission statement of the LSTA states that “we are committed to improved pay and benefits; to assure a better working environment; to provide support where needed and to increase the quality of life for our members.” Historically, the LSTA has not endorsed candidates. This election cycle, your Board of Directors took a different approach. Because of striking differences between the two candidates’ views of state retirement, your Board chose to endorse candidate John Bel Edwards.
The type of retirement system under which we presently work is called a Defined Benefit system. Defined Benefit implies that the benefit that you will receive when you retire is defined when you join Louisiana State Police. The exact amount is based on a calculation that includes your number of years of service, as well as your pay grade, along with an earning rate factor (currently 3.33%) for each year you are employed.
The alternative to a “defined benefit” system is a “defined contribution” system. A defined contribution system is essentially a 401K plan. A member of a DC plan is guaranteed that a certain percentage of his or her earnings will be contributed to an account for his use upon retirement. There is no guarantee as to what the net value of this account might be upon leaving the department. Essentially, a defined contribution program places all the risk on the employee, guaranteeing only that the employer will make an established contribution annually.
No one will disagree that, for the employee, a Defined Benefit program is superior to a Defined Contribution program simply because it provides the expectation of a guaranteed amount of money when one retires. Mr. Edwards has stated repeatedly that he believes in a Defined Benefit system. Mr. Vitter has stated repeated that he believes in a Defined Contribution system. This is the primary reason that your Board chose to endorse Mr. Edwards.
As recently as August of this year at the gubernatorial forum that the LSTA sponsored during our convention in Baton Rouge, the two candidates restated their positions on retirement. Some of our membership wanted to endorse Mr. Edwards at that time; however, your Board felt it prudent to wait until the runoff to see who was still in the race and if their positions had changed. The anticipated runoff candidates are both still in the race and their views have not changed. You should also be mindful that, during his two terms in the Louisiana House of Representatives, Mr. Edwards has consistently supported bills to increase the pay and benefits of active troopers as well as provide COLAs for retirees. In 2014 and 2015, he voted in favor of the bills that provided for the pay increase that you are currently enjoying. He also voted for the COLA that retirees received in 2014 and was a coauthor of a COLA bill that was ultimately defeated in 2015.
In the end, no one cared about the candidates’ positions of Common Core, where they graduated from or by what compass they were morally guided. By making an endorsement of John Bel Edwards, your Board of Directors simply restated its support for those things stated in the mission statement: improved pay and benefits and an increase in the quality of life for our members.”