Not too long after the sordid reign of Bill Campbell as mayor of Atlanta began
— a reign that included turning the streets of Atlanta into a Third World
flea market during the Centennial Olympic Games — we got our first real hint
that our city was in for a rough ride.
Campbell called a news conference. Sitting at a table next to some city
employee union leaders, Campbell announced that he had negotiated an
agreement whereby he, as mayor, would not support any initiative or
ordinance that would cost one union city worker his or her job. It mattered
not if money could be saved or city services could be improved — if it meant
costing a union job, it was off the table.
And so it was that early in the Campbell administration we learned that
Atlanta was going to be operated by unions on behalf of unions and the
taxpayers were getting shoved aside. Let’s reflect on how that worked out
for us. Better than it worked out for Campbell, that’s for sure.
Perhaps the greatest damage done to Atlanta taxpayers was the feeling of
empowerment union leaders got that allowed them to run roughshod over the
city and the taxpayers during the ensuing years; right up until about now,
Now there’s a new sheriff in town. Mayor Kasim Reed. I’ll confess to being as
surprised by Reed’s push to reform Atlanta’s pension system as I was by
Campbell’s “I Heart Unions” news conference. The taxpayers should give
thanks for the presence of an adult at City Hall to deal with Councilman
C.T. Martin’s diaper-changing needs as Martin holds his breath and throws
tantrums over Reed’s plans.
AJC reporter Russell Grantham stated the problem well in his March 27 piece,
“Public pension crisis threatens your wallet.” After Campbell’s grant of
virtual immunity to the unions, they proceeded to demonstrate their strength
in two subsequent elections by cajoling the City Council into raising
pension benefits twice — both times without making any provisions whatsoever
to pay for those increases.
Both increases happened during election years. Why election years? Because
unions know they can put union campaign contributions, union votes and union
volunteer help on the line during an election to support complicit
candidates. It’s a pretty sweet deal when you can spend huge amounts of
money and provide copious amounts of volunteer time — not to mention votes —
to the very City Council candidate with whom you will be negotiating months
later for pay and pension benefit increases. Funny how these election years
work. The result? Atlanta is now running no less than a $1.5 billion
liability in its funding of city worker pensions, and spending about 20
percent of its budget on union pension contributions compared to the 8
percent average in metro counties.
The City Council’s finance committee has now proposed a reform plan that will
maintain the heart of the existing defined benefit plan (with some minor
changes) for existing workers, while moving all new employees into a
401(k)-style defined contribution plan. The unions — no surprise here — are
screaming bloody murder. Let them. They’ve been abusing the taxpayers for
decades now, and it’s time for a little taxpayer relief. Grantham’s article
reveals that 86 percent of government employees have traditional pension
plans. That figure for the private sector would be 36 percent. It’s time for
reform — time for government workers to live by the same pension rules as
the rest of us.
The City Council, and C.T. Martin, have been cowering before union power for
long enough. The council should stop the political posturing and enact this
reform now. Certainly city workers — most of them — need to be respected and
paid a fair wage, but a pension plan, bought with union coercion, that is
far more generous than anything a private sector worker can even dream of
can no longer be defended.
Listen to Neal Boortz live from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on AM 750 and
95.5FM News/Talk WSB.
His column appears every Saturday. For more Boortz, go to boortz.com
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