Archives for category: Pensions

Mitch McConnell is a national menace. He wants states to declare bankruptcy and break all their pension contracts. He brags about being “the Grim Reaper,” the man who kills any legislation that might help regular people.

If states are forced to go bankrupt, it will destroy the retirement security of teachers, police, firefighters, and all public sector workers.

He takes care of his fat cat donors and Wall Street and hurts the men and women that protect us and teach our children. They give their lives for us, and we must stop McConnell from hurting them.

He has stacked the federal courts with unqualified judges who are incompetents and bigots.

Amy McGrath is running against him in Kentucky in November.

She needs our help.

Mitch’s donors are giving him millions to keep their tax cuts coming.

Amy needs millions of donors to combat the influence Of the 1%.

Won’t you send her whatever you can afford?

Kentucky elected a Democratic Governor in 2018.

Now Kentucky needs to get rid of Mitch McConnell.

This is not just a Kentucky issue. Defeating McConnell is a national issue.

Please help Amy McGrath.

Mitch McConnell, Senator from Kentucky, says that the federal government should let the states go bankrupt.

This would destroy the pensions and health insurance of every public sector worker, including teachers, police, fire fighters, and others.

Workers in McConnell’s home state, his own constituents, would be grievously harmed. So would public sector workers in every other state that was forced into bankruptcy by the costs of the pandemic.

David Sirota wrote this article. He was a speechwriter for Senator Bernie Sanders. Please consider subscribing to his newsletter. He is a seasoned investigative journalist. Readers of this blog may remember when Sirota embarrassed PBS into returning millions of dollars to billionaire John Arnold, who had used his money to persuade PBS to run a documentary about “The Pension Crisis,” which is Arnold’s bete noir (he believes that public sector workers with their big pensions are bankrupting the country). After Sirota’s expose, PBS returned Arnold’s money.

Sirota writes about McConnell’s evil intentions here:

It’s not every day that a U.S. Senator explicitly enriches his out-of-state Wall Street donors while telling his own constituents to drop dead. Usually that kind of behavior is somewhat obscured by legislative machinations and spin. But if there was going to be any lawmaker who would be unabashedly blatant about it, you had to know it would be Mitch McConnell.

The Senate Republican leader just finished up shoveling trillions of dollars of federal largesse to businesses and billions of dollars of tax cuts to the super-rich. Having allocated all that cash to the interests that bankroll his political career, McConnell is now taking a hardline stance against a modest amount of aid to states because he says he doesn’t want resources used to prevent cuts to government workers’ retirement and health benefits.

“There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations,” McConnell said.

His goal is to use the coronavirus crisis to realize one of the most radical long-term goals of the conservative movement: empowering states to break existing contracts and slash previously pledged pension benefits for teachers, firefighters, cops, first responders and other public-sector employees.

In a half-assed play to avoid looking like he’s deliberately enriching his elite financiers and starving the peasants, McConnell cast himself as a principled opponent of “blue state bailouts” — a seemingly shrewd anti-coastal framing for his own potentially difficult reelection campaign.

In reality, though, McConnell’s opposition to pension aid is even worse than a pathetic Gerald Ford impression. It is him giving the big middle finger to hundreds of thousands of his own constituents whose Republican-leaning state is now facing one of America’s worst pension crises after McConnell’s Wall Street courtiers strip-mined Kentucky’s public retirement system.

Kentucky Fried Pensions

That’s right: for all the talk of pension shortfalls in blue states like Illinois and California, the bright red state of Kentucky has one of the most underfunded pension systems in the country. The gap between promised benefits and current resources has been estimated to be between $40 billion and $60 billion. One of the state’s pension funds is less than 15 percent funded.

Those shortfalls are not the product of Kentucky’s public-sector workers being greedy or lavishly remunerated — Kentucky teachers, for example, are paid 23 percent less than other workers with similar educational credentials, and they do not receive Social Security benefits.

No — the shortfalls are the result of 1) state lawmakers repeatedly refusing to make annual contributions to the system, 2) investment losses from the 2007 financial crisis and now the COVID downturn, and 3) especially risky hedge fund investments that generated big fees for politically connected Wall Street firms, but especially big losses for the state’s portfolio. (Executives from some of those specific firms are among McConnell’s biggest collective donors, and those firms could be enriched by other parts of McConnell’s federal stimulus bill.

The pension emergency in Kentucky has become so dire that teachers staged mass protests last year, resulting in national headlines and a PBS Frontline special, and a court case that ultimately overturned the Republican legislature’s proposed pension cuts, which the GOP literally attached to a sewer bill.

Typically, a state facing this kind of budget catastrophe would be psyched to have its senator in a prime position like Senate Majority Leader, so that it could have some extra special leg up in securing federal assistance to prevent cuts to pensions and other basic public services.

But McConnell isn’t typical — he is as close to a comic-book villain as has ever occupied an office in the highest ranks of America’s legislative branch. And so rather than taking up Democrats’ offer to work on a bipartisan aid package, McConnell is positioning himself to block the very aid that would especially help hundreds of thousands of his own constituents during his state’s dire emergency.

Empowering States To Use Bankruptcy To Crush Workers

Instead, McConnell is proposing to empower states like Kentucky to declare bankruptcy — a financial maneuver that in practice could allow states to reverse their promises and slash retirees’ promised health benefits and subsistence income.

For retired teachers in Kentucky, a state declaration of bankruptcy and subsequent reneging on promised benefits might mean huge cuts to fixed incomes and medical coverage in the middle of the pandemic.

While retirees struggle to make ends meet, Republicans continue to depict government workers as greedy pigs getting rich off taxpayers. That portrayal is designed to create political support for letting states use bankruptcy to fleece workers — a top consevative movement goal for at least a decade.

“A new bankruptcy law would allow states in default or in danger of default to reorganize their finances free from their union contractual obligations,” wrote Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich in a 2011 op-ed that explained the overall scheme and demonized public employees. “In such a reorganization, a state could propose to terminate some, all or none of its government employee union contracts and establish new compensation rates, work rules, etc…The lucrative pay and benefits packages that government employee unions have received from obliging politicians over the years are perhaps the most significant hurdles for many states trying to restore fiscal health.”

This is not the entire article. Open the link to read it all.

McConnell is fleecing the people who elected him.

He will be on the ballot in November.

If you live in Kentucky or if you have friends there, please send them David Sirota’s article.

The people of Kentucky need a Senator who represents them, not Wall Street.

Sue Legg of the Florida League of Women Voters wrote here about concerns about teachers’ pensions and whether the 2020 legislature is planning to undermine them.

She writes:

There are rumblings that the 2020 Florida Legislature may revise funding for the Florida Pension Plan.   There is no question that the retirement system revenue has declined; it has not been 100% funded since the 2008 recession. The current rate is about 84% of the cost if all people retired at one time. Of course that is an unlikely scenario, but there are now more people vested in the system than are contributing to it. One million public employees participate in the system, about half are teachers and the others are local and state government employees. As retirees increase and new participants decrease, covering costs becomes more problematic…

Pensions are not the problem..The real question as always is whether funding pensions is mostly a political, not a financial issue.  The National Association of State Retirement Administrators cited a report stating that an 80% funding level is the federal benchmark for financial stability of state pension systems.  Florida’s level exceeds that benchmark. Nevertheless, there is a political divide over providing pensions, and it is closely tied to those supporting school privatization.  Florida charters and private schools typically do not contribute to retirement systems, and the resulting high teacher turnover keeps salaries lower.   Thus, there is more money available for management companies in the private sector.   This is not a recipe for a high quality educational system.

 

The Kentucky governor’s race is over at last.

Matt Bevin conceded defeat.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin on Thursday conceded to Attorney General Andy Beshear after a recanvass of votes confirmed Mr. Beshear’s victory in last week’s governor’s election.

“We’re going to have a change in the governorship based on the vote of the people,” Mr. Bevin, a Republican, said in a brief speech from a podium in front of the governor’s office.

Mr. Bevin, who had raised unspecified allegations of voter fraud and left open the option of challenging the results, instead acknowledged the victory of Mr. Beshear, a Democrat and the son of a two-time Democratic governor.

Mr. Beshear’s margin of victory remained unchanged after the recanvassing, according to the secretary of state: 5,136 votes out of more than 1.4 million cast.

Thank you, teachers of Kentucky! You remembered in November, as you promised.

Trump won the state by 30 points in 2016. Bevin’s attack on teachers and on their pensions ended in his defeat.

Democrat Andy Beshear, Attorney General of Kentucky, defeated hard-right Republican Governor Matt Bevin!

Hooray!

Bevin made war on public schools and teachers and threatened teachers’ pensions. He allied himself with Trump and Betsy DeVos. Bevin threatened to cut healthcare insurance. Teachers in Kentucky walked out and demonstrated at the state capitol to oppose Benin’s efforts to destroy their pension rights.

Trump visited Kentucky to help Bevin.

Bevin wanted to make the election a referendum on Trump’s impeachment proceedings. He wanted to distract voters from his agenda to privatize schools and shred the social safety net..

Bevin lost. He hasn’t conceded yet. But he lost.

Here is local news.

“After a hard-fought race marked by angry rhetoric about teachers and the intervention of national politics, Kentucky voters finally got the chance to make their decision at the ballot box.

“In the end, Attorney General Andy Beshear was able to emerge victorious in a gubernatorial race being watched as much for what it says next year’s national elections as it does about the direction of the commonwealth.

“Both men were with supporters in Louisville on Tuesday night watching as the results came in.

“The Democrats — Beshear and his running mate, Jacqueline Coleman — placed much of their focus on Kentucky’s educators and their anger over moves by the Bevin administration to make changes to their pensions.”I believe the more Kentuckians that come out, the better our chances are, because people are hungry for a governor that listens more than he talks and solves more problems than he creates,” Beshear said earlier Tuesday.

”Bevin, a Republican who has polled consistently as among the least popular governors in the nation, highlighted his anti-abortion rights agenda and close ties with President Donald Trump. He switched his lieutenant governor running mate this time out to Ralph Alvardo.”

Lesson in Kentucky: Don’t run against public schools!

PS: The Associated Press says the race is too close to call. CNN has declared Beshear the winner.
With 100% of the vote counted, Beshear is ahead by about 4,500 votes.

From the New York Times:

Next update in :02
Latest: The Associated Press says the race is too close to call.2m ago
Candidate Party Votes Pct.
Andy Beshear Democrat 711,955 49.2%
Matt Bevin* Republican 707,297 48.9
John Hicks Libertarian 28,475 2.0

1,447,727 votes, 100% reporting (3,659 of 3,659 precincts)

* Incumbent

The governor’s race in Kentucky has been cast as a showdown between an unpopular governor and an unpopular party. The Republican incumbent, Matt Bevin, has focused his campaign on his alignment with President Trump and his opposition to impeachment, with the president holding a rally on Monday in Lexington to reciprocate the support. The Democratic challenger, Andy Beshear, the state’s attorney general, has been buoyed by the governor’s diminished popularity — Mr. Bevin is among the least popular governors in the country. 

 

 

Remember that Trump likes to boast of his love for “clean, beautiful” coal.

Now Murray Energy is filing for bankruptcy and will shed $8 billion in pension and health-care liabilities owed to miners.

NPR reports that Murray was one of Trump’s biggest funders:

The Trump administration has spent three years trying to help the coal industry by rolling back environmental regulations and pushing for subsidies for coal-fired power plants. Still, the long list of coal company bankruptcies has continued, and dozens more plants have announced their retirement since President Trump took office.

Now the list of bankruptcies includes a company headed by one of Trump’s most vocal supporters. Murray Energy Corp. filed for Chapter 11 on Tuesday morning.

The company says it reached an agreement to restructure and continue operating. As part of that, Bob Murray — the chairman, president and CEO — will relinquish two of his roles. His nephew, Robert Moore, will become president and CEO while Murray will stay on as chairman.

“When you’re a private company and you’re in financial failure, the first person that loses everything is the owner. And that’s what will happen,” Murray tells NPR.

Murray has had a close relationship with the Trump administration. He donated $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration and has met with administration officials to advance the coal industry’s interests.

Dino Grandoni of the Washington Post writes:

Murray Energy Corp., the nation’s largest private coal giant, filed for Chapter 11 protection on Tuesday, Taylor Telford and I reported Tuesday. That move makes it the fifth coal company to land in bankruptcy court in 2019 as coal is being being squeezed out of the U.S. power market by cheaper options such as natural gas, solar and wind power.

The long-anticipated bankruptcy proceedings also put the United Mine Workers of America’s already fragile and underfunded pension plan on even shakier ground, The situation could potentially spur a divided Congress and Trump, who has championed coal workers, to bail out the miners. Currently, Murray Energy pays into the pension plan for UMWA, which represents a large chunk of the company’s full-time employees…

But it is underfunded also because other coal companies have shed their pension obligations through bankruptcy. Among the billions of dollars of debt Murray Energy wants to restructure — or get rid of entirely — are its contributions to the pension plan. Excluding one of its subsidies that is not part of the bankruptcy proceedings, Murray Energy with about $2.7 billion in funded debt, as well about $8 billion in actual or potential obligations to fund pension and benefit plans, according to court filings.

Robert Moore, the company’s new CEO, hinted in a court filing that Murray Energy may seek relief from its pension obligations.

“Murray’s employees are its lifeblood… Nonetheless, the cost of servicing its funded debt, together with the myriad of obligations Murray has to current and former employees, including to a pension fund that has been abandoned by other employers, have substantially reduced liquidity,” Moore wrote to the bankruptcy court. a court filing….

Manchin and some other senators, including Republicans Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Rob Portman (Ohio), have pushed for legislation that would transfer certain federal funds into the pension plan.

“We’re talking about 82,000 miners who are going to lose their pensions, and we’re fighting this,” Manchin, whose state is home to large Murray Energy operations, said in a radio interview on West Virginia MetroNews on Tuesday.

But the idea of the federal government bailing out the union miners has divided Senate Republicans. Other budget-minded senators from coal-mining states, such as Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), have objected to using federal appropriations to bail out a private pension plan.

Standing in the middle of that divided Republican caucus is the most powerful coal-state senator of all: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Manchin accuses McConnell of “still sitting on” his bill. McConnell met with UMWA members from Kentucky earlier this year and shares their concerns about the potential insolvency, according to McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer. While his office added that McConnell “supports the ongoing process to find a bipartisan solution for pension reform,” it did not commit to bringing any particular legislation to the floor.

Randi Weingarten, who is both president of the American Federation of Teachers and a veteran lawyer, describes the AFT’s efforts to save the pensions and benefits and dignity of teachers in Puerto Rico as the Island faced bankruptcy and predatory lenders.

Why do teachers’ pension funds invest in stocks of corporations that are actively undermining public schools and their teachers?

K12 Inc. manages a chain of online charter schools that are noted for low performance, high attrition rates, and low graduation rates. Their teachers never meet students. They have large classes, no union.

New York State Teachers Retirement System Makes New $100,000 Investment in K12 Inc. (NYSE:LRN)

 

Clifford Wallace and Leigh Wallace, a father-daughter team of professional educators, lambaste state officials for their relentless attacks on the state’s public school teachers. 

They begin:

Leadership matters. It has the potential to influence student outcomes. Clearly, there is a lack of leadership in Frankfort. Kentucky State Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis is taking pages from the flawed and unsuccessful playbooks of his neoliberal, pro-privatization counterparts in Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin. From no longer requiring master’s degrees for teachers to maintain certification to promoting privatized for profit “charter schools” as the panacea to save the “failing public schools” – our “commissioner” is helping dismantle our public schools – and the teaching profession – in Kentucky.

Lewis continues to disparage professionally prepared – and experienced – educators through diminishing the significance of the complex work they do on a daily basis, insulting their commitment and expertise, threatening their pensions, and cutting programs and budgets. Recently, in addition to painting a negative narrative around our public schools and the professionals that work in them, he proposed a “pay for performance” incentive for Kentucky Public School teachers as a means to motivate them to “work harder” and ensure every student has access to a “quality public school.” While this may sound promising on the surface – especially if you have not read the numerous studies conducted by scholars on this practice over the past 30+ years – it is a failed solution.

Lewis’s proposal for merit pay or performance bonuses is absurd. It has been tried repeatedly and failed everywhere. It was tried in Nashville, with a bonus of $15,000 for middle school math teachers who raised test scores. It failed. It has been tried again and again over the past 100 years and has NEVER worked.
Lewis is no “Reformer.” He is being paid to demoralize professional educators and find excuses to privatize public schools. This is not “leadership.” This is Disruption.
The teachers and students of Kentucky deserve better leaders who are dedicated to improving conditionsof teaching and learning.

 

Sometimes you have to use plain words to describe a theftin broad daylight.

Read Kentucky teacher Randy Wieck’s description of the broad-daylight theft of teachers’ pension funds and what this means, not only to teachers, but to school districts across the state.

The Kentucky public pension “deform” abomination signed by Governor Bevin July 24, 2019 – opposed by all Senate Democrats and 9 Republicans in the Kentucky Senate, deforms the pensions – it does not reform them.

The essential knife-thrusts to the heart of the government retiree pension are these:

1) It clips future hires from the plan (and future pay-ins).

2) It allows 118 quasi-governmental agencies (rape crisis centers; health departments, regional universities, etc.) to buy out of the retirement plan with only vague plans to pay off their 30-year pension deb.

The amounts owed are so large it is daft to think the agencies could meet their obligations without declaring bankruptcy and then consequently cutting the benefits of retirees…

By pushing the pension obligations on to individual school districts and thereby increasing the percentage of school-district budgets that must be paid into the pension plan they force the districts to seek cover in bankruptcy.

This will result in significant job losses:

To wit, Louisville, Kentucky, where I am a teacher, recently shut all of its outdoor summer pools; cancelled the most recent police recruit class; and shuttered several libraries to cover increased pension costs. School districts will have to follow suit if this fiscal breach of faith, if this crime – goes unchallenged in the courts, our last resort.