Area native David Sirota is one of the nation's leading progressive voices, and for a good reason. He's very good at slicing through the baloney -- and some of it is very thick indeed -- that our so-called leaders are serving these days,. Today, Sirota has published a major report for the Institute for America's Future asking why the 800-pound gorilla of Philadelphia philanthropies, the normally progressive-minded Pew Charitable Trusts, would team up with a conservative bankster type from the Enron debacle of the 2000s to over-inflate the public-worker pension crisis.
You can (and should) read the full report here (PDF), and there's also an excerpt on Salon where Sirota is a contributor:
These pension-slashing initiatives are part of a larger movement that aims to reduce or eliminate guaranteed retirement income for public workers. Leading this movement under the euphemistic guise of “reform,” Pew’s Public Sector Retirement Systems Project and the Arnold Foundation are trying to distract attention from what McClatchy Newspapers documented: namely, that “there’s simply no evidence that state pensions are the current burden to public finances that their critics claim.”
Rather than acknowledge that truth, Pew and Arnold have successfully manufactured the perception of crisis – which has prompted demands for dramatic action. Pew and Arnold have consequently helped shape those general demands into specific efforts to cut guaranteed retirement income – all while downplaying (or altogether omitting) any discussion of the possibility of raising revenue through, for instance, ending taxpayer-funded corporate subsidies and so-called tax expenditures.
This deceptive message persists, even though these annual subsidies are typically far larger than the annual pension shortfalls.
This is important stuff for us, and not just because a large Philadelphia-based non-profit is involved. The article notes that the Pew-Arnold collaboration has lent out its "expertise" to a number of states and that Pennsylvania, where Gov. Corbett is eager to do something about public-sector pensions, is in the next wave. Sirota's point is right on target -- that states (and cities) don't see their out-of-control spending on subsidies for wealthy corporations as a "crisis" in the same way that a sanitation worker or, heaven forbid, a schoolteacher getting to live his or her retirement in the middle class is a "crisis." (And he notes another local connection: How Rhode Island slashed pension benefits while throwing away $75 million for former Phillie Curt Schilling's failed video-game venture.)
Sound familiar? It's exactly the same mentality behind the whacked idea that the solution for Philadelphia's school funding problems has to be taken mostly out of the hide of teachers and staff, with little focus on the state's outdated and inadequate funding formula.
Another thing that strikes me -- having read the comments on an Inquirer version of this story -- is that one of the big counter-arguments is, "I worked in the private sector and they cut my pension, so now it's time for public workers to take their hit." Really? Do two wrongs make a right? Corporations exist for one purpose and one purpose only -- to make as much money as possible for their investors. Governments actually get to think about what's fair and equitable for the middle class.
Which side are you on?