Thursday, November 23, 2006

For Once, the Pension System Isn't the Problem

I'm not about to say there aren't problems with the state's pension programs, because those have been listed time and time again. I'd be a great big dummy to suggest otherwise. However, Mitt Romney appointing his pal Eric Fernstrom to a part time position to finish up his 10 years of service to the state (the minimum to receive a pension) isn't exactly prime territory to bash the pension system. By all means, lets bash Mitt Romney for being the hack that he is. Mitt shouldn't be appointing anyone to part time jobs in Brookline that doesn't really have much to do with the Corner Office. However, let's not get carried away.

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 hack
That'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!


Anonymous said...

I'm so tired of people bashing the public sector.

We talk about attracting people to the public sector, then act like they're leeches who should be embarassed to do their jobs.

You're right that we're letting Howie Carr drive perceptions here. Not that long ago, he put up a list of the salary of every public employee, except when people looked up their names they often found they were supposedly making 5X their actual salary.

Ryan Adams said...

LOL Why doesn't that surprise me?

To me, the public sector - for 80% of people - is a trade off. You make slightly less money, but you get better benefits and a gauranteed, pretty decent pension. A lot of people are attracted to public sector jobs for that very reason. Some of them have kids and teaching is a job they can do easier than others.

People are so quick to bash the public sector, sick and tired of seeing cops making 90 grand patrolling the streets and doing overtime gigs that beef up the cost of every project imaginable. But they forget that a lot, if not most, of public sector employees work for our public school system. Most of those workers make less than $50,000. A lot of them start at around $30,000 and most require a master's in education within a few short years. Not all of them are teachers - there are secretaries, nurses, councilors of all varieties, administration staff, librarians and janitors. There are bus drivers, computer system administration, coaches and physical trainers/emts.

These are the people that make up a huge proportion of the public sector - and every time we bash the public sector, we bash them - most of whom work years and years to get their proper due. It would be a crying shame to erase all those hard years just when they're about to retire. There is room for change in the system, but it should come at how we can help our hard working employees and help them do their jobs - not at how we can put them in their place. That's what seperates the reality-based community from shills like Howie Carr.

joe said...

I'm not very familiar wuth how the system works, admitedly, so I'm not so sure how dumb this idea would sound. Since most people retire from the highest point in their career, as opposed to this guy who is retiring from a part time, time-filler post, could you instead make the determining factor of your pension the average of the last 3 years you worked instead of the top 3? This would seem to behoof people such as your father who worked for ages to get where they are and also penalize people like this man Mitt appointed.

Anonymous said...

Talk about hacks...Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor is a pretty darn important job, and who did Patrick appoint? His body man/driver from the campaign, Brendan Ryan. So much for changing the culture of Beacon Hill. Paybacks and favors to insiders are still the norm, even with the beloved outsider Deval Patrick.

Peter Porcupine said...

Ryan - two points.

First, the Governor has to appoint people to approx. 8,000 boards and commissions. EVERY housing authority in the state (361) has a Governor's appointee - to say Romney shouldn't make appointments is to say he shouldn't do his job. You may not like his choice, or Weld's or Celucci's either - but would you say PATRICK shouldn't appoint people? Government isn't about just the people you agree with!

I read your dad's scenario, and I'll offer a different one. A town moderator on Cape has been moderator for 30-plus years for a stipend of $300 per annum. He served two terms in the Legislature. Now he collects 80% of his legislative salary just like he had worked, and more importantly PAID IN, full time for 30 years. That is what the law is now.

By expanding the average to ten years, people like your dad will be protected from people who cash in using this sceario - which is bi-partisan. I know a state Senator who served as a Selectman, a Rep., and in the Senate - and then POOF! Three years with Jane Swift in A&F, and a $100,000 pension!

The knee-jerk union reaction is that all change is bad. But, by letting these part-timers qualify for full credit for time in service, we are dangerously depleting your dad's future pension reserves.

You are a good son, and want to stand up for him - so think about this.

Anonymous said...

LOL Yeah, a driver is a real insider, Anon. He's beholden to the special interests already, there's no more powerful center of power that's got power (say power again) on Beacon Hill than the powerful drivers. Jesus, next he'll be appointing a janitor! I hate those guys for demanding to be paid, hey should clean up after us for free and like it. But I mean, god, Deputy Chief of Staff is a guy who works closely with the Governor, so the job should be given not to someone he and his Chief of Staff know and are comfortable with, but to someone else, because, um, just because. Anyway, Josh Lyman was Deputy Chief of Staff, and he was many people's favorite character so we can all see how important this post is not to the Governor's staff but to all of us and how vitally this impacts our futures.

Anonymous said...

" to say Romney shouldn't make appointments is to say he shouldn't do his job. You may not like his choice, or Weld's or Celucci's either - but would you say PATRICK shouldn't appoint people? Government isn't about just the people you agree with!"

Shorter Peter: State pensions are bad in principle, unless they're being paid to me for posting this stuff. I know who's signing my checks and I got no problem with him, specially when he gives me the "hackery above and beyond" bonus most every month.

Couldn't we just, say, means test pensions for elected officials and eliminate pensions for appointees who serve on boards that meet irregularly?

Don't worry, though, paid Republican sockpuppets who spend 20+ hours/week on the internet will always be entitled to full benefits.

Ryan Adams said...

Peter, you made my point - the problem wasn't the pension system, but Mitt Romney. He's the one who put on an appointee (and I don't think the governor should be able to appoint people to local communities. People from local communities should appoint people to their own god damn community committees).

Your proposal does exactly what I said it would: attack the few people who abuse the system at the cost of the vast majority who don't. Changing it to a 10 year average salary would still mean that person from your town would still collect a fairly hefty pension. Yet, it would hurt tens of thousands of people in this state like my dad - who've never broken a single rule or accepted a position they weren't fully qualified to handle - from being the Junior Varsity Girls Basketball Coach in the 80s to being Athletic Director in the 2000s.

The problem, sadly, is the appointees - not the pension. There are a lot more guys like my dad - teacherS - than the 30 year Town Moderators (who know how to work the system). If you were arguing changing merely POLITICAL APPOINTMENTS, you'd have a lot more receptive readers here. But you're talking about hard working people who spend their lives to reach certain milestowns (then you want to kick em in the ass on their way out).


That still wouldn't work because a lot of people like to "slow down" as they get older. Think the old ladies at town hall who like to work part time handing out the parking permits - or oldies who retire from teaching, but remain coaching earning what would amount to franks and beans.

The 3 year policy is pretty good. I could see changing it to 4 years (and maybe even 5, if the issue were studied for ramifications). However, like I've said, it's not the pension system but cronyism. The real answer here is to either make it political poison to push through large swaths of cronies or to outright ban the practice.

Aaron said...

I looked into this, and it is indeed true: Deval Patrick appointed his driver to be Deputy Chief of Staff. Now, I don't really have a problem with it, assuming that the kid is capable of doing the job. But it's really hypocritical of Patrick supporters to defend this. Deputy COS is a big job. Does anyone here really think that the Patrick/Murray transition team conducted a nation wide search, read through thousands of resumes, conducted interviews, and then concluded that Brendan Ryan was the most qualified candidate? Where is the outcry that accompanied Healey's aide getting a cushy job with her husband's firm, or Fehrnstrom getting the Brookline gig? Can't wait to hear Patrick loyalists trying to defend this one.

Ryan Adams said...

Chief of Staff and the like is exactly where you want loyalists in. You have your experts on education, transporation, etc. etc. to say when you're screwing things up, the Chief of Staff is meant to sow things together. You have to know and work well with someone in that kind of a position.

Plus, I'm sure the guy was much more than Deval's driver. Someone in Deval's car all the time is going to a) be privy to all sorts of things that maybe even Deval's wife doesn't know about and b) is going to be close with and get along very well with Deval - so that could make him a better choice for Deputy CoS than anyone else in the country, if that's the reason Deval chose him.

Deval didn't pick this guy to be his expert transportation director based on the fact that he can transverse Massachusetts well - so I don't really see the point in getting angry about such an appointment. Deval chose a guy he knows well for a position in which getting along well with the boss is paramount.

Aaron said...

Something tells me that if Mitt Romney or Tom Reilly had appointed their driver, or some other sort of personal assistant to the position of Deputy Chief of Staff, that you would summon the energy to get angry about it.

Anonymous said...

As usual, your radar is way off. Go figure. Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff are the Governor's support system. They're his, um, assistants. They help him coordinate so he can do his job effectively. So appointing a personal assistant? Well. Um. Yes. Shocking. He should appoint someone "qualified" (qualified how? what are the necessary qualifications here besides having the Gov's best interests at heart--is that what's bothering you?) who he doesn't know, isn't comfortable with and can't work with so his staff is completely disorganized and he can't accomplish anything, to separate himself from every other politician in the world who hires longtime friends they can trust for these personal staff positions.

I don't have a clue who Romney's Deputy or Chief of Staff is and I don't care, he should appoint whoever he feels comfortable with and whoever will help him the most. I don't care even though with Romney as absentee, the COS and deputies probably have more actual power than if we had a competent governor, they're probably running the show day-to-day. I can't remember right now who Bush replaced Card with either. It's inside baseball and it's the executive's discretion.

Is this the best you guys got, because this is really pathetic, but what else is new. And of course, he could have done a galaxy wide search and appointed your most favorite person in the universe (Tom or Kerry, I forget which), and somehow you'd still manage to have a severe problem with it. We call it "irrational hatred bordering on pathology."

Ryan Adams said...

I'm actually pretty sure I wrote a blog, if not here than somewhere, about how the only acceptable crony is for positions in the office like Chief of Staff, etc.

Areas where there's expected to be some sort of expertise, such as education or buereaucratic operations, require experts who know how to make the system work.

I take no more offense to Deval's choice of Deputy CoS than I did with Andrew Card being Bush's former CoS (and I know nothing about Card other than he apparently got along well with the Bushes).

Aaron said...

Uh-huh...glad to see that the post-victory kool-aid is just as trong as ever.

StunnedVoter said...

Wow, Brendan Ryan is Deval's DRIVER?

I would not have thought that. Deval had three meetings with organizations I'm involved with that I attended during the campaign and Brendan came to all of them and I think took notes. I thought he was a strategist or policy wonk or scheduler or something. I think it's admirable that he's giving a younger person a chance (I don't know how old he is, but he looks young), especially since if he screws up no one will be affacted but Deval. Of course, these jobs tend to be like 120 hours a week, right, so maybe a young guy was the only one willing to do it? :)

Good to know, though, that the GOP talking point is "Deputy Chief of Staff is an important/big job." You guys might want to make up some reasons why next time you repeat it, like pretend the DCOS in charge of a state agency or something. :)

post-victory kool-aid

Yes, yes, we know, Deval worships Satan and drinks the blood of the innocent, he is Satan, he murdered the Great God Reilly in cold blood and stole his rightful throne and burned down his two family home and razed Watertown and torched his kids' school and damn democracy anyway, that's just another tool of the Demonic Majesty and he's only lived here for 40 freakin years, that's nothin. Good thing the sore loser of sore losers routine never gets old. [Yawn] Oh no Aaron, he's replacing an inch square of carpet that's only 130 years old! Brendan Ryan made him do it! GAH! CALL TOM REILLY! CALL THE NATONAL GUARD! FOR GOD'S SAKE, CALL SUPERMAN! How can you people look on the demon's visage and not be burned? HE BURNS. roflmao

Anonymous said...

Yep Aaron, kool-aid is the drink of choice for those of us who don't have prayer shrines to Tom and Kerry in our rooms and don't make out with their cardboard cutouts.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the weirdest threads I've ever seen.

On a sidenote: Perhaps stunnedvoter didn't know this, but Reilly's home in Watertown actually did burn down a few years ago while his wife was home alone, and she was nearly killed, and they lost everything they owned, so maybe joking about it isn't quite appropriate.

Joe said...

The lack of unity makes me warm inside.

Anonymous said...

forget unity, one reason why the dems won big this year on the national scale is because they were the "anti-corruption" party and if we want to hold on to anything, we have to hold all these newly elected leaders accountable (including Deval Patrick who, contrary to certain opinions does not walk on water or cure the sick with just a touch).

I have a few concerns with this appointment and the previous posts.

1) The job of Deputy Chief of Staff is crucial to the effective operation of any administration. The COS and DCOS in my mind are just as important as the Governor. Effective and efficient administration of the governor's office is crucial. These are the guys who run the day-to-day. So lets not try and say that this appointment is ok based on the grounds that it is not a highly important office.

2) Deval Patrick ran on a platform of bringing in new people and not rewarding campaign staff. I was at an event before the primary where all 3 candidates each said they would look outside their campaign staff to fill top roles. This flies in the face of what Deval said--i'm not shocked.

3) Lets look at this kid's job: Driver/bodyman. That means making sure deval gets to events on time leaves on time and shadows him during events taking notes to make sure he remembers the important stuff. (That is most likely why he was taking notes at an event that someone mentioned earlier).

4) This is not the person i want as 3rd in command. I want a seasoned pro who has tons of relationships with legislators and other important state and private sector individuals. A person who can use those relationships to help the state.

5) Q.Why did Deval pick this guy?
A. One piece of the puzzle in keeping his campaign field staff in order so he has a better shot at getting re-elected and is in a better position when he runs for Senate.

6) My prediction: Deval's cabinet is made up of former executives from Coke, Shell, United, and Ameriquest. Ok maybe not, that was just for fun but I bet his devout followers would still be with him even if that did come true.


Aaron said...

What's going on here? Who are these sensible people choosing not to worship the ground that DP walks on? Am I still on Ryan's Take? Someone please clear up this confusion for me!!

Joe said...

This would be the salty taste of month-old kool-aid.

Anonymous said...

Don't mess with the pension system, I want my kids to grow up and be like Billy Bulger.

Ryan Adams said...

To anon speaking on the DCOS pick.

"The job of Deputy Chief of Staff is crucial to the effective operation of any administration. The COS and DCOS in my mind are just as important as the Governor. Effective and efficient administration of the governor's office is crucial. These are the guys who run the day-to-day."

So you're saying the guy who's been with Deval Patrick day-to-day is suddenly bad? You guys speak as if he was *merely* the driver. I assure you, he did a lot more than driving around - and probably wielded a LOT more power in the campaign than anyone's giving him credit for. There's no doubt in my mind that he even influenced Deval's policy.

I repeat this time and time again: for DCOS and COS you want people who are VERY familiar with you and know how you want things run in positions of power. You don't want someone who's going to question your every move - that's why you have experts on education, transportation, etc. etc. etc. that Deval Patrick's been putting on his transition team.

This is all a bunch of BS and I'm not going to stand for it much longer. Deval Patrick has done more - BY FAR - than any Republican administration in bringing in all sorts of views to his administration. You can see it in his transition picks. Some of them are moderates, some of them are liberals, a few are even intelligent conservatives - there's a lot of impressive people joining his team.

People taking swipes at him are doing the same thing they've been doing all along, trying to bismirch his name for things that he's been doing well. Why? It's all about hiding the truth and covering it with lies. Make him look bad at the things he's good at. It's pretty outrageous and on this site you'll be exposed for the hypocrites that you are.

Where were the liberals in Mitt Romney's administration? What hardcore liberals and progressives did he put on his transition team? It would seem intelligent for Mitt to have invited them along, seeing as how they comprise a very large segment of the Mass citizenry.

Aaron said...

The driver influenced policy??? Hey, I like you bro, and I respect you, but you've clearly never worked on a campaign with a statement like that.

Ryan Adams said...

Clearly, Deval's taken a liking to him and was somewhat influenced by him, otherwise he wouldn't be the new DCOS.

Aaron said...

How come when Deval appoints a campaign aide/insider to a cushy post it's because the kid must have left an impression on him, but when Romney/Healey do the same it's b/c they're a bunch of cronies? This is what I'm talking about with Deval getting a "Free ride." It's not about sour grapes, it's about holding everyone to the same standard.

Anonymous said...

I don't know who started this whole argument about DP appointing his driver to be Deputy COS. Brendan Ryan worked for the Patrick campaign as Deputy Finance Director and later as Trip Director and Chief Aide to the Candidate. If you told DP that Mr. Ryan was his driver, he would probably laugh at you. He is young, but DP obviously trusts him, so lets see what he can do before we write him off as a crony, ok?

Erin said...

Brendan's qualified to do a lot of things, driving an important person around is not one of them. I know for a fact he crashed his parents camry when he was in high school and was forced to drive around a tank sized station wagon that drove like an ocean liner.

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