I like my weekends as much as the next guy, especially when it's autumn and the University of Michigan football team is 4-0 heading into Big Ten play with the leading Heisman Trophy candidate under center. But I think we would all be remiss to have too much fun on our days off and let our minds wander from the looming public pension crises in the states.
Thankfully, Stateline leads us into the weekend with an important story about the rising profile of public pensions in this year's gubernatorial races:
Pensions aren’t exactly a staple of election year politics in America. But after three years of heightened attention to the underfunding of public pension systems, candidates across the country are offering a variety of proposals to strengthen financing. The debate is certain to carry over to the 2011 legislative sessions that begin in January.The sharpest divide is between advocates of the defined benefit system, which has stood for decades as the preferred way to provide retirement security for thousands of state employees, and the 401-(k) system, in which workers do most of their own retirement planning and risk investment losses in the market. Many Republican candidates for state office argue that a 401(k)- style plan would be much cheaper; their Democratic opponents generally prefer keeping the current system but trimming costs through higher employee contributions, raising the retirement age and freezing or postponing cost-of-living adjustments for those newly hired.
There are a few Democratic candidates willing to stick to the traditional party position in favor of defined benefits. In Minnesota, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mark Dayton chastised his Republican opponent Tom Emmer for saying public employees get a guaranteed benefit while “the rest of us” are delaying retirement or “wondering if we’re ever going to be able to retire.” Dayton responded that “people who work all their careers in the public sector, they don't make a lot of money in total and they don't have a lot of retirement income, but they have secure income… To denigrate people because they want retirement security is really misguided.”
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat seeking his first full term, also has defended the traditional defined benefit approach even though his state has the most underfunded public pension system in the nation. Quinn’s support of defined benefits was blunted by his promotion earlier this year for a pension reform package approved by the Legislature that, among other things, raises the retirement age for new hires from 60 to 67, highest in the country. Quinn makes the distinction that the reform plan would affect only new employees. His GOP opponent, Bill Brady, favors the defined contribution approach.