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Guest Column: Time for Municipal Pension Reform

Keep It Local, Florida

February 6, 2014

Appeared in Historic City News February 6, 2014

Crack open a laptop, fire up your smartphone or flip on the TV—wherever you get your news, it won’t be hard to find polls expressing Americans’ deep dissatisfaction with Washington. It’s easy to figure out why.

Paralyzed by gridlock, Washington appears more dysfunctional now than at any time in recent history. However, Washington’s problems aren’t surprising. Dig past the partisanship and you’ll find a more fundamental cause: Washington is too distant from the people it’s supposed to serve. And that’s led more than 80 percent of Americans (ABC News Poll) to throw up their hands in frustration.

One of the most troubling ways Washington asserts influence is by wresting important decisions from state and local governments. This heavy-handed approach has left many Americans feeling that our national leaders simply aren’t listening.

There’s a teachable moment here for Florida lawmakers. Every state legislator knows how tough it is to set effective policy when faced with unfunded mandates or heavy-handed regulations from Washington. Unfortunately, Tallahassee has been too quick to adopt Washington’s one-size-fits-all approach to policymaking; meddling in matters best left to Florida’s cities.

History, philosophy, and commonsense prove that government closest to the people tends to govern best. Sadly, this essential principle of home rule is often forgotten in Tallahassee. Perhaps the most glaring example is the failure to meaningfully address municipal pension reform -— a problem that, left unsolved, could bring Detroit-style financial ruin to cities all across Florida.

Tallahassee’s failure to address municipal pension reform has made it possible for 46-year old recent retirees to receive annual payouts of more than $155,000 complete with platinum-plated health packages that cost city taxpayers millions per worker. Our towns and taxpayers just can’t afford it anymore.

Here’s the kicker: City governments want to solve the problem—but they can’t. Why? Because years ago, Tallahassee struck a deal with public employee unions to create a system of ever-expanding benefits. This system actually blocks city officials from using key funding streams to shore up the solvency of municipal police and fire pensions. Instead, they’re forced to use these funds to increase benefits—leading to deeper financial problems.

This should be an easy one for conservatives. Municipal pension reform is not only a good idea; it’s an indispensable idea. But pressure from powerful police and fire unions has blocked reform for years. The 2014 Legislative Session will provide Tallahassee with an opportunity to support a deeply-held conservative principle that also happens to be a credo for good government: Never let a distant government stand in the way of a sensible idea that works for Florida’s towns and taxpayers.

Michael Gold

As the Florida editor for Watchdog Wire, my goal is to work with other citizen journalists, like you, to help compensate for the lack of mainstream news reporting to expose waste, fraud and abuse that exists in government. My colleagues at Franklin Center, and peers in the Citizen Watchdog movement, share a belief that government transparency and accountability is not a conservative or liberal idea – it is an American idea. A free flow of information is essential to maintaining our free republic, and that starts with a free press — and that starts with you.

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Categories: Budget and Finance, Healthcare, Labor / Unions, Opinion
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