Oklahoma House Republicans are touting what they perceive to be “historic” pension reform, but let’s remember reducing the unfunded liability of the state pension programs was the result of reducing future benefits of current and future retirees.
According to a press release issued Thursday, the unfunded liability of the state pension programs has supposedly been reduced from $16 billion to $10.6 billion. (The release doesn’t tell us exactly how this was calculated.) State Rep. Randy McDaniel, an Oklahoma City Republican and chair of the House Pension Oversight Committee, had this to say about the reduction:
The reforms are making a meaningful difference. At a time when nations in Europe as well as other states in our country struggle to even address their structural debt problems, Oklahoma’s financial condition is already exhibiting remarkable improvement.
It’s debatable whether the so-called reforms “are making a meaningful difference” in Oklahoma’s overall “financial condition.” Some of the money taken from retirees will now not end up in the overall economy. Hypothetically, this could even contribute to more budget cuts in most state agencies, including schools and colleges.
Essentially, the state is cutting benefits of its employees. If there is a comparison to Europe, it’s with that area’s ongoing non-productive and immoral austerity movement in which the rich, worldwide corporate power structure, including the banking industry, hope to make workers pay for its own corporate greed and mistakes. Obviously, Oklahoma isn’t Europe, but the same austerity principles apply when it comes to the conservative political majority in the state. Investment bankers literally destroyed the world economy and now they, along with their conservative political supporters, want the 99 percent to pay the price here and elsewhere.
Buried in the press release in the last paragraph is this:
The reforms enacted this year included House Bill 2132, which requires a funding source before cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) can be granted, and several acts that increased the retirement age for future employees.
One can only speculate why this significant information was given in the last paragraph. It should have been in the first paragraph, which might have read something like this: Recent cuts to current and future Oklahoma retiree benefits have made the state’s pension programs more solvent. That’s what has happened, not some brilliant, legislative reform. Also, the pension funds’ assets have apparently increased because of better investment conditions. But does anyone doubt the investments will someday sink again because of the lack of regulation in our entire banking and investment system?
The real problem state workers and teachers face is that these so-called reforms and the pat-myself-on-the-back adulation are just the beginning. Watch for more legislative interest in state pensions next session as well. If you’re reading this and you’re a state worker or teacher, who fall under one of the state’s pension plans, then consider yourself warned: The Oklahoma Republicans are coming after your retirement in order to fund more state income tax cuts for rich people. They will disguise this effort with sloganeering and buzzwords and false comparison, but it doesn’t get clearer than this if, and this is a big if in Oklahoma, you’re paying attention.
On a positive note, voters in Ohio recently voted to discard a Republican law that limited collective bargaining rights there for state workers. Let’s hope voters here will also eventually recognize the GOP’s continued embrace of economic injustice as a party platform.