An answer to state budget woes that doesn't need to involve sacrificing workers' rights.
March 5, 2011- As states struggle to meet their budgets, public pensions are on the chopping block, but they needn’t be. States can keep their pension funds intact while leveraging them into many times their worth in loans, just as Wall Street banks do. They can do this by forming their own public banks, following the lead of North Dakota—a state that currently has a budget surplus.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, whose recently proposed bill to gut benefits, wages, and bargaining rights for unionized public workers inspired weeks of protests in Madison, has justified the move as necessary for balancing the state's budget. But is it?
After three weeks of demonstrations in Wisconsin, protesters report no plans to back down. Fourteen Wisconsin Democratic lawmakers—who left the state so that a quorum to vote on the bill could not be reached—said Friday that they are not deterred by threats of possible arrest and of 1,500 layoffs if they don't return to work. President Obama has charged Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker with attempting to bust the unions. But Walker’s defense is:
“We're broke. Like nearly every state across the country, we don't have any more money."
Broke Unless You Count the $67 Billion Pension Fund . . .
That’s what he says, but according to Wisconsin’s 2010 CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) [pdf], the state has $67 billion in pension and other employee benefit trust funds, invested mainly in stocks and debt securities drawing a modest return.
A recent study by the Pew Center for the States showed that Wisconsin’s pension fund is almost fully funded, meaning it can meet its commitments for years to come without drawing on outside sources. It requires a contribution of only $645 million annually to meet pension payouts. Zach Carter, writing in the Huffington Post, notes that the pension program could save another $195 million annually just by cutting out its Wall Street investment managers and managing the funds in-house.
The governor is evidently eying the state’s pension fund, not because the state cannot afford the pension program, but because he sees it as a potential source of revenue for programs that are not fully funded. This tactic, however, is not going down well with state employees.