The truth about those anti-pension newspaper editorials



briefcase newspapersIt could be we’re “overwrought,” but our Supreme Court fight over pensions (http://www.wfse.org/supreme-court-asked-to-overturn-raw-deals-on-pensions/) has unleashed some carbon-copy newspaper editorials lobbying the justices to rule against you.

We could be wrong, but they appear to be infected by the Koch Brothers network line.

You know the Koch Brothers. They’re the anti-middle class tycoons who have backed a number of corporate-friendly mouthpieces, from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on down, to attack you. Their fingers are all over the conservative think tanks in Washington state that newspaper editorialists often use openly or covertly to support their corporate attacks on you.

This network believes it’s ok that 1 percent of Americans have 40 percent of the wealth. And that those at the bottom of this skewed curve, like many current retirees, should scrape for nickels and dimes. (http://mashable.com/2013/03/02/wealth-inequality/).

Newspaper editorial boards rarely listen to you. Sometimes they’ll invite us in to talk to them, but most of the time they say they don’t want to get involved in “labor disputes.” Letters to the editor and op-eds are good, but these days they often get shunted off to newspapers’ websites and never get the equal space of the original offensive opinion piece.

But if they don’t listen to us, they should at least listen to other tycoons who have seen the light.

Like Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, who supports the Proposition 1 measure in Seatac to boost that city’s minimum wage to $15. Hanauer is the very opposite of the Koch Brothers. Hanauer has been spotlighted in the Seattle Times news pages (http://tdn.com/mobile/article_319eecaa-3f2e-11e3-bf38-0019bb2963f4.html) — too bad it doesn’t carry over to their opinion writers.

The editorials that sprang up after our Oct. 24 Supreme Court appearance on pensions say a union victory will mean higher taxes and job loss. A great Koch Brothers network line.

That’s a convenient diversion, but even if it were true, here’s what millionaire Hanauer told KIRO radio (http://www.kiroradio.com/listen/9962972/):

“If it was true that lower taxes for the rich and more wealth for the wealthy led to job creation, today we would be drowning in jobs….

“The fundamental law of capitalism is that if workers have no money, businesses have no customers. And that a thriving middle class is the source of prosperity in capitalist economies, not a consequence of it.”

A look at the editorials urging Supreme Court to rule against you

Editorial boards are the folks who pontificate in the pages of your daily newspaper and their online versions. They often tout transparency.

But in the wake of the Federation and other unions’ Oct. 24 Supreme Court appearance on pensions, at least four newspaper editorial boards have shown how transparently biased they are in favor of the corporate Koch Brothers’ line on pensions for middle class heroes like you – the “thriving middle class” maverick millionaire Nick Hanauer says is vital if our capitalist economy is to survive.

There are so many examples, but why tell you what you already knew. But here are a few samples:

• Spokane Spokesman-Review, Oct. 25, 2013

“Public unions want moon, sweetened pensions, too”
http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2013/oct/25/editorial-public-unions-want-moon-sweetened/

What they say: The Spokesman-Review mouths the line that defending pension benefits isn’t about defending the constitutional rights that two lower courts have upheld. It’s the lie that you haven’t sacrificed enough during the Great Recession, that you “cling to an addition” to pension benefits that has gutted government services, raised tuition and kicked tens of thousands of people off the Basic Health Plan.

Who they got their information from: “Courtesy of the Washington Policy Center,” the Spokesman-Review editorialists write. Yup. That’s right. The same Washington Policy Center whose attack on our Supreme Court fight (http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/blog/post/state-supreme-court-considers-13-billion-pension-case) relies on a report from the Reason Foundation advocating the apples-oranges comparison to the constitutional pension fight in California. And, according to the award-winning AlterNet journalism website, The Reason Foundation is a front for the Koch Brothers attack on Social Security, health care and other middle class issues (http://www.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/8-reasons-charles-koch-scariest-man-america).

Did the Spokesman-Review Editorial Board really think you couldn’t connect the dots and show how transparently biased they are against you?

• Seattle Times, Oct. 24, 2013

“Rule against lawsuits at state Supreme Court”
http://mobile.seattletimes.com/story/today/2022109996/track-ip_news_lite-1.2.2-./

What they say:  Our good friends at the Seattle Times Editorial Board lobby the nine Supreme Court justices to ignore lower court rulings in favor of pensions and their constitutional and legal foundations. Again, it’s you vs. education: “At stake is $10 billion in taxpayer money over the next 25 years – money that will be needed for public schools, community colleges and universities….The state needs to make good on the court’s McCleary ruling on education….(T)hese pension goodies were not promises.”

Why they’re wrong: The Seattle Times editorial writers obviously did not read the detailed briefs from both sides that the Supreme Court reviewed and quizzed the attorneys about on Oct. 24. If they had, they’d know that the $10 billion cost scare diverts attention from the fact that the state had been shirking its responsibility. It’s not about state employees vs. education. It’s about accountability. Instead of using the extraordinary gains from state investments in the pre-recession boom years, the Legislature used them to reduce the state’s share of their payments into the pension fund. That’s right. You played by the rules and held up your part of the bargain; the Legislature did not. And now, according to the Seattle Times and the Washington Policy Center and the Koch Brothers network, you’re to blame.

In fact, it’s possible that had the money been appropriately held until the gainsharing events kicked in, the state could have made interest income from it; but by lowering the amounts in the pension funds, they actually LOST money through loss of interest. The state brought this on all by itself. The Seattle Times needed to scratch below the surface – more than the biased charts on the Washington Policy Center’s Supreme Court pension page. Because the state’s own numbers presented to the Supreme Court reflect that if they had simply stopped gainsharing for new hires in PERS 3 – which everyone agrees would have been legal – the state would have saved more money than what they ended up doing illegally.

It’s all there on pages 41 and 42 of the unions’ brief:

“Finally, any cost associated with restoring gain-sharing is caused by the Legislature’s 10 year delay in prefunding the benefit. In 2007, the 25-year cost of future gain-sharing for current members was $2,389.8 million. The cost of the replacement benefits eliminated under the trial court’s order is $2,499 million, which would mean the State saves $110 million if all trial court rulings are affirmed. The State asserts that, as of April 2010, the cost to restore gain-sharing had increased to $3,364 million. No current members were added after July 2007, and gainsharing benefits are based on years of service, rather than salary. Therefore, the increased cost must reflect investment earnings lost because gain-sharing was not funded in 2007. Having caused this additional cost by its own delay, the State should not be permitted to interpose cost as a defense to correcting its constitutional violation.”

• The Olympian, Oct. 29, 2013

“Court should rule for state in two pension cases”
http://www.theolympian.com/2013/10/29/2798843/court-should-rule-for-state-in.html

What they say: The Olympian tells its heavily state employee readership that a “victory for the unions” will harm state employees. Yup. That’s right. You played by the rules, you paid your fair share, you’re defending your constitutional rights but “an unlikely victory now could mean a more serious long-term loss for state workers.”

And again: “An improbable decision for the unions might not be so sweet for public employees. Forcing the state to pay hundreds of millions in the next few years could thwart future gains for K-12 education, putting both the court and the Washington Education Association in an awkward position.”

Like the others, The Olympian editorialists are mouthing the Koch Brothers’ network line that “the unions have suggested the state raise taxes” to uphold the pension benefits.

This is what the Washington Policy Center said – see if sounds vaguely familiar to what ended up on the editorial page of The Olympian: “Raising taxes to provide enhanced pension benefits and for paying down a worsened unfunded liability is unlikely to go over well with taxpayers.”

Why they’re wrong: To their credit, the Washington Policy Center actually read the unions’ briefs sent to the Supreme Court. But they took one line in one footnote out of context to spread the lie, picked up by The Olympian and others, that we’re calling for tax increases. We are not. The footnote was part of a detailed refuting of the state’s rationale that it should apply a test for impairing non-pension contracts in this pension contract case.

The gist of our argument is the state has other alternatives short of contract impairment, raising revenue being just one of them. And remember what we’ve been saying for 12 years – we can raise billions and billions in revenue, more than the supposed $10 billion cost of these pensions cases, without raising taxes. We can do it by closing just a few of the many unfair corporate tax loopholes that hang around our necks like a Koch Brothers albatross. They and The Olympian editorialists may call that a tax increase; we call it paying the same fair share we all pay.

Don’t be thrown off by the revenue boogeyman. At the core of this argument is the state did not live up to its responsibility. The state squandered the opportunity to help improve the fund status of PERS 1, which has been underfunded since the 1970s. Again, you held up your end of the bargain. The state instead gambled on rebuilding PERS 1 funds in better economic times, but kept digging a deeper and deeper hole. And remember, overall, we have one of the best funded pension systems in the entire nation, with PERS 2 and 3 at more than 100 percent funded – even with all the benefits now in question before the Supreme Court.

• Tacoma News Tribune, Oct. 30, 2013
“State fixed mistake, now court shouldn’t compound it”
http://www.thenewstribune.com/2013/10/30/2863019/state-fixed-mistake-now-court.html

What they said: In his regular op-ed column, Washington Research Council President Richard Davis said the Federation was “overwrought” in claiming the Supreme Court fight is part of the “nationwide fight to save public employee pensions.” “Overwrought” is a term that might conjure up images of Chicken Little running through the countryside shouting, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.” Davis and the Koch Brothers network are actually rooting for the sky to fall in on you.

But if “overwrought” means we’re modern-day Paul Reveres riding through the information highway shouting, “The Koch Brothers are coming! The Koch Brothers are coming!” then we plead guilty. It appears the Koch Brothers and their minions, like Davis and the Washington Research Council, have invaded and infected newspaper editorial boards.

Why they’re wrong: Davis fails to disclose that the Koch Brothers are one of his biggest patrons. Koch Industries, owned by Charles and David Koch, co-sponsored the Washington Research Council’s 2013 Annual Dinner – along with BP of Gulf Oil Spill fame and Walmart of anti-worker shame (http://www.researchcouncil.org/mx/hm.asp?id=AnnualDinner).

Davis disputes the Federation and its allies in challenging the Legislature’s “reservation of rights” clause — that it reserves the right to give something and then repeal it. Again, like the many others blinded by the Koch Brothers, Davis ignores the state constitution and previous court precedents.

Those include the 1956 Bakenhus v. City of Seattle case and the 2008 Navlet v. Port of Seattle case. Those precedents forbid the Legislature from repealing retirement benefits, even if the Legislature intended to reserve such a right. Bakenhus also says the Legislature could not reduce retirement benefits after employees began work. The Navlet precedent has a similar message on repeal of gainsharing benefits.

Regardless, the state never told those enticed into PERS 3 the gainsharing benefit could be repealed.

The unions told the Supreme Court in their briefs:

“No DRS (Department of Retirement Systems) communication to members during the eight years after enactment of gain-sharing advised employees that they could lose their contractual right to gain-sharing….

“For more than eight years, in countless documents it characterized as ‘roadmaps’ and ‘guides,’ and in annual Handbooks, DRS advised employees that gain-sharing was part of the deferred compensation that they would receive for their work. Under Bowles, 141 WFSE v. State, 142 and Washington Ass ‘n. of County Officials, the duration and nature of this long-standing DRS practice created constitutionally-protected expectations in the continuation of gain-sharing, regardless of the Legislature’s intention.”

Because Mr. Davis obviously visits the Federation website to gather fodder for his screeds, we hope he reads these arguments that he conveniently twisted in his TNT column.

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