Pension solutions demand compromise A4 Tuesday, December 11, 2012
We know that New Mexico’s two biggest public retirement systems are sliding toward insolvency. The Educational Retirement Board is looking into a $5.9 billion abyss between its assets and the benefits it will have to pay. The Public Employee Retirement Association faces an even bigger gap of $6.2 billion. Those numbers will probably get bigger as new information comes out. To find solutions, the Legislature in 2011 created the interim legislative Investments and Pensions Oversight Committee, chaired by Sen. George Muñoz, DGallup. It dutifully heard testimony and introduced bills, but there was little consensus. Curiously, the PERA didn’t even offer a plan. “I can’t figure out why people don’t want to fix the problem today instead of every single year kicking it down the road because at some point we’re going to be in
ALL SHE WROTE
so much trouble. That’s my biggest fight,” Muñoz said during the last session. Lately, we’ve seen a greater sense of urgency and real momentum. The news is that the committee and unions have approved plans from both the ERB and PERA. The ERB plan would reduce employee contributions from 11.15 percent to 10.7 percent and raise state contributions from 9.15 percent to 13.9 percent, according to information submitted to the committee. The ERB also proposed a new minimum retirement
age of 55; and, for future workers, deferred start date of some retirement benefits. The committee clarified that the changes would not apply to workers earning less than $20,000 a year. The plan bears some resemblance to a compromise measure introduced by Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, which would have set a minimum retirement age of 55 as of July 1, 2022, reduced the cost-of-living adjustment paid to retirees 65 or older, and increased employee contributions over a fiveyear period and employer contributions over a six-year period. The COLA is something of a sacred cow, and the Senate Education Committee stripped the COLA reductions from Ingle’s bill, along with the minimum retirement age. The PERA board in June proposed scaling back retirement benefits for current and future employees, increasing contributions by both employees and gov-
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ernment, and limiting retirement eligibility for future workers. It too was supported by unions. News of these approvals doesn’t mention the challenges of getting 15 unions and retiree groups to sign off. Because last session unions harpooned some of the measures, the legislative committee probably understood that this is the best deal they could expect. The unions’ positions can’t be dismissed as posturing. They’ll try to protect employees, yes, but one thing we heard often during the last session was that retirees had made plans and decisions based on the state’s promises, and the state couldn’t just change the rules mid-game. Let’s not forget that we wouldn’t even be in this fix if financial wizards far from here hadn’t totaled the economy, although the Legislature was slow to respond. As the funds’ earnings shrank, their costs were climbing. Lawmakers kept improving benefits (it’s more
fun to give than to take away), and workers retired younger and lived longer. Even though lawmakers have increased state and employee contributions, it wasn’t enough. Gov. Susana Martinez thinks both plans lay too much of the burden on taxpayers. Her new spokesman says she has offered to work with legislators to find a solution. There’s probably room for compromise, but she doesn’t acknowledge the significant compromising already accomplished. Muñoz also points out that cities carry more of the burden than the state. And then there’s the emotional debris from the nastiest and most expensive election campaigns New Mexicans have ever seen. Compromise will probably be scarce, but the abyss grows as we argue. Says Muñoz, “We have to get this done (in the next session) or we’ll have to come back in a special session.” © New Mexico News Services 2012
Politicians who borrow and spend with reckless abandon gave us the 2013 cliffjumping pact. Congressional politicians enact debt limits, as a gesture of restraint, then waive the limits at will. It is gradual economic suicide. Government has incurred more debt under President Barack Obama already than 42 predecessors combined, Washington through Clinton. To continue spending more than our economy can afford, Obama asked Congress to raise the debt limit in 2011. Republicans balked. To avoid sovereign default, Congress and the president struck a deal to immediately increase the debt ceiling by $400 billion, with options for additional increases going forward. Guilt-ridden politicians raised the limit on condition Congress and Obama would dramatically reduce the deficit in 2013. To ensure deficit reduction, they tied the debtlimit increase to automatic tax hikes and spending cuts, effective in January 2013. Known as “sequestration,” these automaticspending cuts could devastate local economies relying on defense spending. That our debt ceiling is a joke — like a credit limit the consumer manipulates at will — caused this mess. Presidents no longer have impoundment or line-item veto power, which means a debt limit is the only control on spending. Behold the wise man who said “enough” last week: We are “not going to raise the debt ceiling ever again until we address what got us in debt, and that’s government spending and entitlement growth,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Years before a $16.3 trillion debt had us gazing into the abyss, contemplating our economic mortality, another wise man warned us about debts and debt limits: “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government cannot pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our government’s reckless fiscal policies ... Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren.” These words belong to a revered American who may rank second-to-none in our national annals. They are the words of then-Sen. Barack Obama, who was battling a 2006 request for more credit by then-President George W. Bush. President Obama, what happened? Washington’s debt has long burdened future generations and the future has arrived. Review your statement of 2006, Mr. President. Then re-frame. Sell the merits of sacrifice, charity and self-reliance. Lead this country from crisis without incurring more debt. Guest Editorial The Colorado Springs Gazette
Republicans worry about angering their party MARK SHIELDS CREATORS SYNDICATE
Sen. Jim DeMint, the uncompromising South Carolina conservative whose average personal net worth of $40,501 made him, according to the respected Center for Public Integrity, the fourthpoorest member of the Senate, will resign his seat at the end of the year to become president of The Heritage Foundation. Although no salary terms have been announced, the man whom DeMint will succeed has been paid more than a million dollars a year, and
it’s a good bet that Jim DeMint, who is ear ning $174,000 a year as a senator, will get a raise to somewhere in seven figures. The DeMint news came right on the heels of an exclusive report in Mother Jones magazine that former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Ar mey of Texas had resigned as chairman of FreedomWorks, one of the prominent political operations in the conservative movement with strong tea party ties. Reportedly, Armey’s severance package will leave him richer by $8 million. Talk about striking gold.
The financial windfalls visited upon these two conservative true-believers recalls the line about the congregationalist missionaries in Hawaii who seemed to find more personal prosperity than converts: “They came to do good and did very, very well!” But if you want to know the terribly sad state of today’s Republican Party, you just have to look at the treatment of Bob Dole, who was both the presidential and the vice presidential nominee of the GOP, in addition to being his party’s Senate leader as well as its national chairman. But long before he was a
national leader, he was 2nd Lt. Bob Dole on April 14, 1945, in the hills of Italy, when a Ger man shell tore through his right shoulder and broke his neck and spine. He had been a 6-foot-2-inch, 194-pound athlete, and after losing 70 pounds and having his body temperature rise to 108.7 degrees, he forced himself through 39 months of painful rehabilitation to learn all over again how to use the toilet, how to eat, how to wash and dress himself, and how to walk. His painfully thin right arm, some 2.5 inches shorter
See SHIELDS, Page A5
In his Sunday letter to the editor “Mural appreciated,” it was Curt Tarter’s intention to thank Kevin Bell rather than Keith Bell.
DEAR DOCTOR K: My mom always told me to take vitamin C and not to drink milk when I had a cold. Is this true or just an old wives’ tale? DEAR READER: The idea that vitamin C supplements might prevent the common cold, or shorten the duration and reduce its symptoms, was popularized by the biochemist Linus Pauling. Pauling was indisputably a genius, a Nobel Prize winner who was one of the most distinguished scientists of the 20th century. When Pauling talked, people listened. In fact, people not only listened; they put the scientist’s ideas to a scientific test. Randomized controlled trials involving thousands of people were conducted. My interpretation of
ASK DR. K UNITED MEDIA SYNDICATE
the results of those studies is that they showed no evidence that vitamin C supplements reduced the duration or severity of the common cold. There was weak evidence that they might reduce the risk of catching it. Still, studies like these can tell us only about the results in the “average” person. It may be that there really are some peo-
ple who do benefit from vitamin C supplements; the problem is that we currently have no way of identifying these people. Some of my patients insist that vitamin C helps them to deal with the common cold, and they could be right. What about drinking milk? There is a rather widespread belief that dairy products trigger mucous production during a cold and can slow recovery or even cause another cold. You hear it a lot, but it’s just not true. The argument was that milk increased the amount and thickness of phlegm that is produced during a cold. Phlegm is the thick, mucous-containing fluid responsible for congestion and post-nasal drip.
But a remarkable set of studies published in 1990 found no clear connection between milk consumption and cold symptoms. In one study, researchers exposed study subjects to a cold virus. They kept track of the dairy products the subjects ate and their symptoms over 10 days. Secretions from the nose were collected, the collection jars promptly sealed to avoid evaporation and then weighed. The verdict? The amount of nasal secretions and symptoms of congestion had no relationship with milk or dairy intake. Later studies agreed. Researchers involved in these studies concluded that the comSee DR. K, Page A5
25 YEARS AGO
Dec. 11, 1987 • Eight students attending Central Christian School in Roswell recently qualified for the 1987-88 New Mexico AllState Chorus. They are Gary Allison, Tricia Collins, Beth De La Fuente, James Elliott, Ivan Garcia, Angela Hanson, Eldon Marek and Melissa Paschall. The students qualified for allstate after competing in auditions by high school students throughout New Mexico. The All-State Chorus meets Jan. 7-8 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque for a music clinic before performing in concert Jan. 9.