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- 2013 - September - 16th -

National pension group challenges Pew’s work

by Karen Brune Mathis, Managing Editor

As a Pew Charitable Trusts team offers to help resolve Jacksonville's pension problems, the National Public Pension Coalition warns against Pew's involvement.

The coalition, a 6-year-old group that says it represents "millions of teachers, nurses, police, firefighters and other public sector employees," issued a statement Friday.

Pew is expected to make a presentation Monday to the Jacksonville Retirement Reform Task Force and to offer a pro bono analysis of the city's pension problems.

The coalition's criticisms raise questions for the task force. Chairman Bill Scheu said Friday the members will listen to the Pew presentation and decide how to proceed.

The coalition contends that, "despite their claims to be an impartial think tank advocating for fair and transparent policies, Pew's involvement in the pension fight is anything but fair and transparent."

It says that "their sales pitch on this issue is nothing more than a disingenuous cover for their efforts to dismantle public pension systems across the country, and retire millions of middle class families into poverty," it said.

The coalition, which is linked on the website of the AFL-CIO labor organization, cites Pew's work on pension studies with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation of Texas.

It says the Arnold Foundation, which was established in 2008, was founded by a former Enron executive and "is known to be hostile towards unions and public sector defined benefit pensions."

The coalition says Pew has worked with Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma and Colorado and particularly criticized its work in Kentucky.

The coalition contends Pew and Arnold advocate a cash balance plan that would reduce benefits to employees, including elimination of disability and survivor benefits.

Pew Senior Researcher David Draine, who is expected to meet Monday with the retirement task force, issued a comment Friday by email in response.

"While pension reform is arguably one of the most daunting financial problems facing states and cities today, we do not have a one-size-fits-all solution. Every city and state has a unique set of policy preferences and budgetary challenges; what is critical to achieving lasting reform is an open, inclusive, data-driven process," he said.

Draine said Pew and Arnold provided technical assistance to a bipartisan task force in Kentucky that passed its recommendations on an 11-1 vote.

He said those recommendations were the basis of the pension-reform legislation that passed the 2013 Kentucky General Assembly and was signed into law in April.

Scheu said he doesn't know the details of the Kentucky proposal. "We need to research … the people complaining," he said.

The retirement task force meets at 9 a.m. Monday at City Hall and again at 1 p.m. Friday to review Pew's offer.

kmathis@baileypub.com

@MathisKb

(904) 356-2466

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