December 9, 2011. Indianapolis. The citizen watchdog group Taxpayers United of America made a public request that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels release his state’s government employee pension information. Most states in the US have admitted to being a victim of their own generosity with regard to government employee pensions. Critics would rephrase that, saying the taxpayers are the victims of state employee greed regarding those very same pensions. Without a transparent system, Indiana residents have no idea how fair or unfair the system is they’re being forced to fund.
In neighboring Illinois this year, the reform PAC ‘For the Good of Illinois’ was successful in forcing the Land of Lincoln to release its employee pension records. What the taxpayers found was staggering. Some go so far as to call it criminal. In one indicative case, a teachers union representative was allowed to work for one single day as a teacher. From that one day of service, the union boss has been collecting a six-figure pension each year. In another instance, yet another Washington-based union boss pulled a similar trick and now collects more than $1 million per year in taxpayer-funded pension payments.
Recent discoveries like those are fueling the nationwide movement for transparency in government. It’s also due to last year’s almost $1 trillion dollar Federal bailout of city and state budgets. Those same budgets are being drowned by overly burdensome government employee pension deals. In just one example, last week’s edition of this column titled, ‘Ribeiro Schakowsky rematch in IL CD 9’, quotes US Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) explaining the need for a teachers union bailout. The Congresswoman took partial credit for passing a bill in Washington that “provides $10 billion dollars to help prevent teacher layoffs due to massive shortfalls in state budgets.”
In Indiana, things are different. There is no transparency.
“I have written a letter to Gov. Daniels, urging him to change the culture of secrecy surrounding government employee pension benefit amounts. He can champion enforcement of Indiana’s existing freedom of information law: IC 5-14-3-1, regarding access to public records” wrote Christina Tobin, Vice President of Taxpayers United of America. She quotes the law, writing, ‘All persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government…’
Tobin goes on to call the Governor to task over Indiana’s apparent secrecy. “Indiana has refused to release the names and pension amounts for its retired employees at every level of government. There is a culture of resistance and secrecy around the salaries of current employees as well. Indiana State and local government officials have been more resistant in providing salary data than any other state in which we have researched the government pensions” Tobin wrote, “In states like Indiana that refuse to disclose individual pensions, we estimate pensions for current employees using their current salaries and the specific pension rules for the fund in which they participate. While this provides a reasonable estimate, the people have a right to know actual pension amounts.”
Christina Tobin and Taxpayers United of America go on to remind Governor Daniels what it’s like to live on Main St. these days. “Speaking of the total pension funds in terms of millions of dollars doesn’t mean anything to average working people who are making $30,000 or $40,000 a year” Tobin wrote the Governor, “But when people see that they are paying to support the lavish, million dollar payouts of their retired neighbors, the problem becomes very clear. In Indiana, the government employee pensions are funded entirely by the taxpayers with no employee contributions. This is the peoples’ money and they have a right to the details of the spending of it.”
The taxpayer advocacy group finished by appealing to the Indiana Governor’s fiscally conservative side, “Governor Daniels has championed some important fiscal improvements in Indiana and we are calling on him to again lead the way to a transparent culture of government, by and for the people.”For more information, visit TaxpayersOfAmericaUnited.org.