David Cay Johnston in Newsweek, EXCERPTS from a long piece on underfunding pensions:
This is nothing short of theft, as pensions are simply deferred wages, that is, money that workers could have taken as cash in their regular paychecks had they not opted to set it aside.
In Detroit, a federal bankruptcy judge handling the city’s Chapter 9 case held Tuesday decided he could safely ignore a Michigan Constitution provision barring any reduction in pension benefits to already retired public sector workers. Judge Steven W. Rhodes went beyond asserting the supremacy of federal law over state regulations, ruling that the pensions workers earned were a mere “contractual obligation,” no different from any other bill the city owes but lacks the money to pay.
The result will mean even worse poverty in the sputtering Motown, where a once robust industrial tax base has withered away, the starkest example of the economic devastation wrought by government policies that for decades have encouraged companies to move manufacturing offshore.
Financial mismanagement in Detroit under every mayor in the past six decades also contributed to the disaster, except for the honorable exception of Coleman Young in the mid-1970s. The result: Public worker pensions averaging $19,000 a year will be cut to the bone. That is sure to increase demands for federally funded food stamps, a program which Congress has just cut, and other welfare to make up for some of pensions workers earned but will not collect.
Norman Stein, a Drexel University law professor who is an expert on pensions, said that if the Detroit order stands it will become standard practice to slash benefits.
“It would be a human catastrophe of the first order if pensions of vulnerable older workers can be cut whenever a local government goes to bankruptcy court,” Stein said. “We will be consigning firemen and policemen, who did nothing wrong other than protecting the city and depending on the city’s promise, into old-age poverty.”
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