David at BMG and Lynne from LeftinLowell both seemed peeved over Mitt's newest appointment - as well they should be. However, they both took offense to the pension system - not the real problem, which is Mitt Romney. Currently, someone has to work for the state for 10 years before being eligible to receive a pension. At that point, the top 3 consecutive years one receives a salary is averaged together to determine the pension (the years put into the system factors in too). That Fernstrom will have reached that in just a couple from a political appointment in Brookline is only absurd because its a crony job, not because it's breaking the pension system. Lynne made the following suggestion:
make it 10 years that are used to average a salary for purposes of determining pension, to reward the lifelong public servant and not the temporary hackThat's a very, very bad idea. No wonder - Peter Porcupine came up with it! Furthermore, it wouldn't even put solve the supposed problem - which is cronyism. Fernstrom would still get his pension and it probably wouldn't be that much smaller. Let's think who this policy is going to hurt the most - the occasional political appointee or the average Joe?
I gave Lynne the case of my father to answer that question. It takes a long time to rise up in the public sector, even (or maybe especially) in the school system - which is where a lot (if not most) of state employees work. My Dad has worked at Lynnfield High School for about 25 years, during which time he's been a teacher and a coach. He started as a history teacher, football coach and JV girls basketball coach, and became the Head Coach of the girl's team a few years later. He took the job as Head Coach of the boy's basketball team around when my brother started playing for Lynnfield - and my Dad got to coach my brother when he made the All Star Team. At some early point, my Dad became the Head Coach of the football team too - but that was his specialty, considering his very large background in football. Here and there, he helped the track team as well. Heck, at points he even coached the golf team (and won the Globe's Coach of the Year in his second season).
When my brother graduated, my Dad soon became the Athletic Director. It took him a long time to get there, about 20 years - and a lot of hard work. As Athletic Director, he still had a full schedule of classes (and papers to correct). As AD, he had to go to every home game and make every playoff game for every sport. He had to schedule games, work with other Athletic Directors and get through a lot of hectic times. He wasn't paid much for it, but added to his teaching salary he became one of the higher paid teachers at Lynnfield - deservedly so.
After being AD for a few years, it was just too much work. Because Lynnfield doesn't have a full-time salaried AD, my Dad asked to split his AD salary and go into a co-Athletic Director system. It was still a lot of work, but at least he got to spend some time home. However, the football program began to fall apart. My father was asked by the Superintendent to take over again just a few years later, a task he agreed to. So now he's again a Head Football coach, which requires a huge amount of time during the summer and fall (plus year-round work too) and the Athletic Director. He's now making a very good salary for a teacher, but working way too many hours for someone who has two young kids.
To suddenly say that man, who's working upwards of 80 hours many weeks as he's nearing 60, doesn't deserve to be recieving a pension that reflects the amount of work that he's been doing is a shame. He's happy to do the work, he likes being busy. But he also deserves his respect. So do the thousands of other "average Joes" such a sweeping change would effect.
My Dad is not alone. There are a lot of people like him. Changing the pension system would hurt tens of thousands of hard working, middle class people. There are other ways of fixing it than screwing over the middle and working class people, who for most of their careers aren't making very much money. Should teachers receive their pension based on their final responsibilities, or should we pay them based on what they were doing in the middle of their career? If we do that, there's a much smaller incentive for them to keep pushing themselves. There's a lot of problems with bureaucratic inertia as it is, let's not add to it.
Like I said at the beginning, what Mitt Romney did was wrong. But it has nothing to do with the pension system - and everything to do with the fact that he appointed a hack. Cronyism is the problem here, not the pensions that tens of thousands of hard working people in this state will depend on (and pay into). The pension system at Massport certainly needs to be corrected. Furthermore, no state employee should be recieving a $160,000 pension like Billy Bulger. However, the changes proposed on the lefty blogosphere aren't going to fix any of those problems.
Let's not get focused on Herald headlines and Howie Carr columns; let's not be prey to hysteria. Let's try to create policies for people that need them, not just against people that don't. If we only focus on the people who don't, we're going to screw over a lot of hardworking people in the process. It's a way to make ourselves feel good about doing a shitty job, bringing the Mitt Romneys of the world down at the cost of hard working people. It's far removed from everything the reality-based community supposedly stands for and I hope we quickly leave this nonsense behind us.
PS Happy Thanksgiving!