Public sector man sitting in a bar: "They're trying to take away our pensions."
Private sector man: "What's a pension?"
-- Cartoon in the Houston Chronicle
As states struggle to meet their budgets, public pensions are on the chopping block; but they needn't be. States can keep their pension funds intact and leverage them into many times that sum in loans, just as Wall Street banks do. They can do this by forming their own banks, following the lead of North Dakota, the only state either to have its own bank or to have a major budget surplus.
Public workers are not going quietly into that good night of state budgets balanced at the expense of union benefits. After three weeks of protests in Wisconsin, convictions remain strong and pressure is building. Fourteen Wisconsin Democratic lawmakers said Friday that they are not deterred by threats of possible arrest and of 1,500 layoffs if they don't return to work. President Obama has charged Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker with attempting to bust the unions. But Walker's defense is:
"We're broke. Like nearly every state across the country, we don't have any more money."
Among other concessions, Governor Walker wants to require public employees to pay a portion of the cost of their own pensions. B emoaning a budget deficit of $3.6 billion , he says the state is too broke to afford all these benefits.
Broke Unless You Count the $67 Billion Pension Fund . . .
That's what he says, but according to Wisconsin's 2010 CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report), the state has $67 billion in pension and other employee benefit trust funds, invested mainly in stocks and debt securities drawing a modest return.
A recent study by the PEW Center for the States showed that Wisconsin's pension fund is almost fully funded, meaning it can meet its commitments for years to come without drawing on outside sources. It re quires a contribution of only $645 million annually to meet pension payouts. Zach Carter, writing in the Huffington Post, notes that the pension program could save another $195 million annually just by cutting out its Wall Street investment managers and managing the funds in-house.
The governor is evidently eying the state's lucrative pension fund, not because the state cannot afford the pension program, but as a source of revenue for programs that are not fully funded. T his tactic, however, is not going down well with state employees.