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Monday, February 17, 2014

Whipping Boy

The news on PERS these days is pretty spare.  Things will heat up again next month when the special master starts taking the written briefs and arguments from the plaintiffs and the responses from the defendants.  These will be posted on the Bennett-Hartman website as they are received and processed.  When the first of these links go up, I will post a clickable link to them.  The Legislature “seems” to be in session, although nothing related to PERS has been posted.  There was a brief kerfuffle when a legislator from the southern valley tried to help one of his “friends” (a PERS member) gain a benefit that few of us can access - an exception to the 1039 hour rule that would have allowed certain designated members (sheriffs, police chiefs, fire captains, etc) to retire, but continue to work full time because they were in a hard-to-replace position in a small community.  The present law allows this for communities under 75,000, but the amendment (which died after getting publicly trashed by the media) would have raised the threshold to 110,000.  It never ceases to amaze me how much chutzpah legislators have when it comes to PERS.  Trash the ordinary member who has worked a full career in public service, but create special exceptions for their friends.  Bah, humbug, and worse.

Trashing and beating public employees continues to be a national sport.  The John and Laura Arnold Foundation continues to fund efforts across the country to get states, municipalities, school districts and the like to take away benefits for future retirees, and to reign the existing benefits in for current retirees.  The COLA reduction movement is a specific area the Arnold Foundation has funded in many states across the country.  Last fall, PBS (including OPB), ran the first of a number of programs on “Pension Peril”, which followed the Arnold script fairly closely.  In a scathing article published on Pando, former Washington Post columnist David Sirota, wrote an article entitled “The Wolf of Sesame Street” exposing the role the Arnold Foundation played in funding the series for WNET, the NYC public broadcasting affiliate.  It turns out that WNET had actually solicited the money from the Arnold Foundation, and the Arnold Foundation happily donated the $3.5 million needed to finance the program.  Sirota documented the violations of the Public Broadcasting Charter in pretty significant and damning detail.  After a week of backtracking, double-speaking, denials, and plain B.S., WNET finally decided to return the $3.5 million to the Arnold Foundation and effectively terminate any further development of the series.  As I said elsewhere, it will be hard to measure the damage done by the early installment of the series (I did not watch it), but it is a small victory for public outcry and for David Sirota’s activism that WNET realized what a public relations disaster this was and did the only thing it could do to stem the further erosion of its public image.  Despite this, public employees still seem to be everyones’ “whipping boy” for the foreseeable future.

I’m done with my fall/winter traveling after logging 33,000 miles between late October and today.  We are taking a break from long stints on crowded airplanes, eating out, sleeping in unfamiliar and often uncomfortable beds.  I will be around for all the public hearings on the SB 822/SB 861 lawsuits.

Stay tuned.