Monday, January 31, 2011

Message to the Feds: Leave Public Pensions Alone

Speaking before more than 80 Senate staffers from the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), Finance and Aging Committees, NLC President James E. Mitchell Jr., councilmember, Charlotte, N.C., urged the Senate not to undermine the nation’s state and local public pensions by adopting new rules and guidance.

Keeping with NLC’s views on federalism, Mitchell also told the audience of Senate staffers that federal interference with state and local pensions might create problems where none exist.

Mitchell was joined at the Senate briefing – which was jointly sponsored by Senate HELP Committee chair Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and ranking member Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) – by Dana Bilyeu, executive director of the Nevada Public Employee Restirement System and Nancy Kopp, treasurer for the State of Maryland.

Some have estimated that nationally, state and local pensions are underfunded by $3 trillion. Bilyeu countered that the reason some think pensions are underfunded is because they misunderstand and frequently misreport how they operate.

“Public plans are economic drivers in your states," she said. "In 2008, public retirement systems distributed more than $175 billion in pension benefits, and lest anyone think that workers are getting rich off their pensions, please understand that the average public pension benefit nationally is $22,600.”

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