Ten Fallacies Used To Justify Opulent Government Pensions

There are many implicit rationalizations justifying paying generous government pensions. Here are my nominations for the top ten bogus excuses:

1. “Public employees deserve high pensions because of their low pay.”

FALSE. Perhaps true at one time, but not anymore. In many instances, today’s government employees are earning 10%-30% more than their true private sector counterparts — with far better job guarantees.

2. “Government employees should not have to save for retirement.”

FALSE. They can use retirement accounts to add to their nest eggs — just like the rest of us. They can invest in stocks, real estate, annuities — just like the rest of us.

3. “Government employees deserve to retire earlier than private sector employees.”

FALSE. If they do “need” to retire early, they can get another job to supplement income (as do most military retirees).

4. “Government employees and their families deserve to live and retire comfortably from a single 40 hour a week job.”

FALSE. Today most private sector middle income and upper middle income couples fully expect to generate multiple incomes — working over 40 hours and/or both working.

5. “Government workers deserve guarantees because they are ‘public servants’ not motivated by greed.”

FALSE. As a group, public employees, thanks to their their unions, are as greedy as they come, and they rely on the force of government to get what they want. The REAL “public servants” are the TAXPAYERS.

6. “No matter how many or few years a public employee works for government, their only source of retirement income is (and should be) their government pensions.”

FALSE. Downright ludicrous. Yet government pension apologists will point to a 10 year government worker’s relatively modest pension, bemoaning the worker’s poverty-stricken plight at retirement. They include such workers in their “average government pension” propaganda.

7. “Many government employees don’t get social security.”

LARGELY FALSE — or at least misleading. While many public employees don’t pay into social security, most can qualify for at least a minimum social security income from other jobs.

8. “Without guaranteed pensions, many government employees would retire in poverty.”

LARGELY FALSE — or at least not the fault of taxpayers. This assertion is based on the absurd assumption that, unlike private sector employees, government employees would (and should) otherwise save nothing for their senior years.

9. “Many government employees should be able to retire with essentially the same income they earned on the job.”

FALSE. This is the “90% pension at 30 years” common in public safety jobs — and for too many other government employees (including all San Diego County government employees). Indeed, given that a retired employee no longer pays for pensions, union dues, Medicare, or commuting costs, a 90% pension is actually HIGHER than the net salary received while working.

10. “We have to pay top pensions to attract ‘the best and the brightest’ to government work.”

FALSE — and a bad idea to start with. We DON’T want to attract “the best and the brightest” to government work. We need such folks in PRODUCTIVE employment in the private sector. All that government pensions do is to assure that government employees STAY as government employees – regardless of work quality.

Richard Rider is the chairman of San Diego Tax Fighters, a grassroots pro-taxpayer group. Rider successfully sued the county of San Diego (Rider vs. County of San Diego) to force a rollback of an illegal 1/2-cent jails sales tax, a precedent that saved California taxpayers over 14 billion dollars, including $3.5 billion for San Diego taxpayers. He has written ballot arguments against dozens of county and state tax increase initiatives and in 2009 was named the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association’s “California Tax Fighter of the Year.”

9 replies
  1. Avatar
    Richard Rider says:

    These fallacies are often IMPLICIT, but seldom explicitly stated. For instance, public employees love to lament about how hard it is to live on their pensions (or how they couldn’t get along without them).

    But what they are IMPLICITLY saying is that the pension should be all they need in retirement — that they should not have to do any personal investing or saving for their senior years — investing in IRA’s etc. like those commoners do in the private sector.

  2. Avatar
    Tyson says:

    Glad to see you keeping up the fight, Richard. I gave up and left for Florida. I won’t even get into the absurd difference in bang-per-tax-dollar.

  3. Avatar
    friendsoftorrance says:

    I would just like to make sure that everybody knows Torrance’s (CA) senior Safety Officers (Police Chief, Fire Chief and five (5) other Police CPTs) are in the top 1/1000 of one (1) percent (0.0014%) of the highest paid personnel in the state of CA out of approximately ~1.2 million CA public employees based on their FY 2011 pension contributions. Torrance also had seven (7) Safety Officers (Police & Fire) in CY 2011 where their required annual pension contributions were > $100,000. Yes, seven (7) Safety Officers pension contributions were greater than $100K. In fact the average for these seven Safety Officer’s pension contributions was ~$113,000.

    Torrance’s annual pension contribution rate for our Police Department on July 1st 2014 (FY 14/15) will be at a minimum ~57.60% of covered payroll and ~52.60% for our Fire Department. Our average annual pension & Other Post Employment Benefit (OPEB) contribution costs for FY 2013/2014 for our police is ~$72,000 and for the Fire Department ~$63,000.

    Nobody ever thinks of Torrance because it is rarely in the news but it is the 4th largest city in the South Bay area and it has better compensation perks and higher pensions costs as a percentage of the general fund than Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and even Beverly Hills on some categories.

    So please be careful – satire- when someone makes a statement about other cities having the highest paid police forces in all of CA because our Mayor, Frank Scotto, and the three City Council member incumbents running for Mayor, Mr. Pat Furey, Mr. Bill Sutherland and Mr. Tom Brewer will be very displeased that you have insulted all of their hard work for the last 6-8 years.

    Lastly Torrance can claim that it also has two of the top 500 highest paid public employee retires in CA on their Torrance City Council, Mr. Gene Barnett ($177,227.4 CA pension) former Community Affairs chief and Mrs. Susan Rhilinger ($168,750.72 per year)(just recently resigned due to health problems). I just want to make sure you do not inadvertently insult all of the hard work our local politicians and City Manager have achieved – so I have provided the real facts about Torrance to you.

  4. Avatar
    friendsoftorrance says:

    All of the facts about Torrance’s gold plated pension system is documented at http://www.friendsoftorrance.com. The home page takes you our Save our Children’s Future – Employees Pay Their Fair Share petition. For an overview of Torrance’s dysfunctional pension system go the blogs and read the main article about Torrance’s true pension costs. Any person that is a voter resident of Torrance (CA) your signature for petition would be sincerely appreciated.

  5. Avatar
    nonsubhomine says:

    Just a quick response from a conservative who happens to work for a fed agency (in DoD). First, most pensions that are a 3x multiplier (your 90% after 30 years) are gone, at least in DoD civilian jobs. It is now a 1x multiplier (30% after 30 years). I contribute more to my own retirement than the gov’t does. Second, to the first bullet point – it is true that SOME gov’t civilians earn more than private sector, but that is true mostly at lower levels. Higher levels, at least within the GS scale, really aren’t comparable to private sector. A PLFA director, GS-15, can be in charge of 500 or more employees, have a budget in excess of $100 million (not including payroll), and have commensurate responsibilities. Base level (not including locality pay) salary is about $120k (I would have to look for the exact amount). That salary is nothing to sneeze at, but a “true” private sector counterpart would be a CEO of a medium or larger size company. I would bet that their compensation package dwarfs what the gov’t offers.

    To your point at large – I agree that gov’t needs to look at all spending. And I am aware that Fed Gov’t compensation is not the same as state level. But be careful to get your facts straight – the argument can be made and sustained without twisting anything or leaving important information out.

  6. Avatar
    Equal Time says:

    Good job at drawing from the inventory of inflammatory key words – absurd, greedy, generous, bogus, implicit rationalizations. Too bad you could not squeeze in a few other standard refrains, such as unfair,unsustainable, fuzzy math (or perhaps I missed them).

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