Paul Jacob

Nothing speaks to the out-of-control nature of government more loudly and clearly than the lavish pension benefits promised to public employees. The extravagance centers on their underfunded nature: The pensions’ benefits are defined — defined high — and underfunded or even unfunded as the employment occurs, leaving many states, metro areas, cities and counties with burdensome funding commitments at retirement.

Many communities across the country now lurch towards bankruptcy.

Similar benefits are nearly unheard of in the private sector . . . the only exceptions being where union bargaining, backed by government guns, force big companies to contract similarly self-destructive deals.

It gets worse, though. These cushy pensions pile atop similarly plush wage and salary rates as well as medical benefits that outmatch comparable jobs in the private sector. Further, by double-dipping, retired public servants exacerbate the financial hit on taxpayers. It’s become commonplace in some locales for public employees to retire and begin collecting their lucrative pensions, only to re-enter the public workforce, receiving a full salary on top of the pension payouts.

An Illinois loophole proves instructive. Two employees of the teachers’ union, who had no prior experience teaching, were able to qualify for the more lavish pension paid to actual classroom teachers by substitute teaching for one day. One day! There simply aren’t any jobs in the private sector — which, by the way, produces the wealth that finances the public sector — where a person gets a lifetime pension for one day’s work.

How did we get here?

Simple. Public employee unions are not negotiating with their actual employers, the taxpayers. They bargain with politicians, who wish to please everyone today, as they seek votes for re-election, often without regard to what those costs will be tomorrow . . . when they’ll no longer be in office. Politicians appease today’s taxpayers by trying to hold down current labor costs while promising politically powerful unions amazing and unaffordable future benefits.

This public pension system cannot be sustained.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.