Public pensions will be tweaked, not butchered
Yesterday's column was about the Baltimore fire & police pensions and how they are a harbinger of what Maryland's governor, whoever he is, will be dealing with next year. I disliked the headline that editors wrote for the print edition: "Too bad about those pension promises." It seemed to mock those hoping that today's state and city pension terms will last. Mocking is not my intention. My point was that everybody is dealing with diminished resources and lowered expectations in today's economy, and that members of all defined-benefit pension plans, government's included, will have to face up to that.
But don't expect public pension plans to be wiped out, by any means. Even after inevitable reforms, most government employees will have the kind of retirement benefits that private-sector employees can only wish for. It's just that contribution rates will rise, retirement ages will be pushed back, cost-of-living adjustments will be lowered and so forth.
A good analogy is Social Security, which is headed toward its second big overhaul in four decades. Most workers pay into Social Security, and most workers will have to adjust to the idea that Social Security's terms are going to change. Look for the Social Security retirement age to be pushed back and perhaps for benefits to be scaled back for high-income folks. Many Social Security members realize that present terms can't be maintained without terrible fiscal consequences or intolerable tax burdens on younger generations. But barring some barely imaginable disaster Social Security will be here and paying benefits for a long, long time.