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Commitments to retirees must be honored

Mac Gordon

Mac Gordon

The average reader may not have gotten the memo, and perhaps could care less anyway, but deer, dove, turkey and other wild animals aren’t the only species that are squarely in the sights of hunters this autumn.

It is open season on retired government employees and their pensions — the fixed incomes that enable millions of Americans, who gave their working lives to public service, to make their contributions to the nation’s struggling economy.

I even read where our retired military personnel and their retirement benefits could face drastic cuts in the not too distant future. Imagine this: You volunteer to serve your country in its uniform, you risk life and limb in three or four wars, you work hard to improve your rank and standing (you are a “good soldier”), your family often suffers financially while you are away because your military salary is never up to par, you wear that uniform for 20 to 30 years and then you retire believing that the government is going to reward you with a certain lifetime benefit.

Then, you read that that “certain lifetime benefit” is not really “certain” or for a “lifetime” at all. Now, that’s a nice way to treat our retired veterans, isn’t it?

Military personnel aren’t the only retired federal workers whose pensions are suddenly under the barrel of a gun. The retirement benefits of regular government workers are in peril because, according to a recent story in USA Today, “the federal government hasn’t set aside money or created a revenue source ... to help pay for the benefits.” Does that sound like good planning by our Congress, or what? To me, it sounds like another example of a “do-nothing” Congress.

Many states have rightly appointed commissions to study their beleaguered pension systems. Georgia’s system is supposedly in a decent financial condition and in fact the two parts — one for teachers, another for non-education workers — “look good compared with the fiscal train wrecks that some other state pension systems have become,” said the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a March report.

Investment losses deep into the billions on Wall Street have contributed greatly to the financial situation facing public retirement systems, and the recent ups-and-downs of the stock market are surely contributing to the current wave of fear running through various pension headquarters, state capitol buildings and the homes of retired workers. However, there has also been some very poor planning by lawmakers along the way.

Many states have properly changed the retirement rules on new workers. These newbies know going in that they will have to work more years — and contribute more to the system — than their older counterparts before they are able to draw retirement benefits.

But, those older counterparts — and our beloved military retirees — also knew going in what they were due when their time came to retire. Actually, many of them did government a favor by retiring earlier than they may have wanted to, saving government some large salaries and more expensive benefits.

Those commitments were valid when they were initiated, and they should remain so today.

Mac Gordon lives near Blakely and draws a state government retirement pension from his native Mississippi. He writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald.