Thursday, September 1, 2011

An alternative voice on public pensions

On Tuesday, Aug. 30, the City’s Pension System Task Force got to hear an alternative viewpoint to what they’ve been hearing about public retirement systems. Hank Kim made a presentation to the group, and he is the executive director of the D.C.-based National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems. NCPERS is a “nonprofit network of trustees, administrators, public officials and investment professionals who collectively manage nearly $3 trillion in pension assets held in trust for approximately 21 million public employees and retirees – including firefighters, law enforcement officers, teachers and other public servants.”

On Monday, Aug. 29, Mr. Kim wrote a response to the Kansas City Star’s Sunday editorial that said he would present “one-sided points.” His letter made solid, well-rounded arguments, and here’s what it said:

“To the Editor:

"Despite the unfair assertion in your Sunday editorial (Don’t accept ‘What, me worry?’ pension views), I will not be presenting one-sided arguments to Kansas City’s Pension System Task Force on Tuesday. The task force has invited me because its members want to be fully informed about all available options before making its recommendations to Mayor James and the City Council – an approach for which they should be applauded, not criticized.

"The fact is there are a number of effective strategies for securing the health and sustainability of a public pension plan before taking the drastic and costly step of converting it to a 401(k)-style plan. Many public pension plans around the country are employing those strategies.

"It’s important to remember that public employees routinely contribute to their pension plans, paycheck after paycheck, while many government bodies – including Kansas City – have not made their required pension contributions for years. Before scapegoating public employees and threatening their retirements, policy makers and the general public should become fully and adequately informed of the facts and the available options. I hope to help with that process on Tuesday.

"While revenue shortfalls have prompted government officials to scrutinize public pension plans, we believe their focus is too narrow. The U.S. is facing an overall retirement crisis as record numbers of workers enter their retirement years. Retirement security for all Americans –whether they work in the public or private sector – must become a national priority.”

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