In Florida, Tea Party Favorite and GOP Governor Rick Scott has campaigned on the narrative that evil lurks in the ranks of public employees, namely teachers working on all levels of education. Seems Mr. Scott did not like school. He came out earlier in the year complaining that there are too many professors teaching sociology and the liberal arts. Mr. Scott does not seem to know that many entrepreneurs have liberal arts backgrounds, and not all have business degrees (regardless, who taught any of them...teachers that's who). To carry this political objective further, Mr. Scott cut $1.6 billion from the 2011 State Budget. In addition to these cuts, Mr. Scott and his GOP supporters in the Statehouse, convinced voters that one of the main reasons for the State's fiscal troubles has been its underfunded public employee pension plans. As a result, many teachers in the State of Florida have moved elsewhere or become unemployed. In the Sarasota County School District, there has been a "hiring freeze" for three straight years and a wage freeze now for five straight years. While Mr. Scott led the ideological war against teachers, he marched forward with immediate tax cuts for business under the banner of "creating jobs." Now the independent task force reports the real reason for underfunded pensions is because of fiscal irresponsibility on the part of lawmakers, not educators and their "bad guy" unions as claimed.
Within the last year in Florida, public employees did not sit idly by while the Governor and his supporters were demonizing them. Education related groups instead took the Governor to task by filing suit with the Florida Court alleging public pensions have been traditionally underfunded by the State and that any inabilities to meet its future unfunded obligations rests solely at the feet of our public officials and not at the feet of the teachers (but the real legal argument is that the State, when raising this tax on public teachers, did so without regard to existing collective bargaining contracts prohibiting the increase). When a lower Court agreed, the State appealed directly to the Florida Supreme Court. The Court has agreed to rule on the matter by (appropriately) this Labor Day. Any guesses on how much the State of Florida is spending on litigation against its own citizens? Now that's responsible government!
My point is this. GOP leaders on the state and national level have no problem fighting tooth and nail to protect the wealthiest Americans with net earnings of at least $1 Million from paying 3% more in income taxes, but no one seems to care that Florida teachers making an average of $46,708 (per Tampa Bay Times) are being taxed an additional 3% by the GOP (who ironically claim they abhor tax increases). Isn't paying 3% more towards pensions really another form of a tax? Of course it is!
Why, it's all those public employees and their expensive pensions fault, right? At least, that has been the GOP's argument all along. Yet, according to the task force report, states have been raping their pension funds, using them to fill in budget shortfalls instead of funding their obligations owed. According to the times article, "When desperate budget officials go looking for money to balance their budgets, they often see public pension funds as an almost irresistible pool of money." The Bureau found that states have shortchanged their pension contributions by no less than $50 Billion, which does not take into account pensi0n losses since 2008. Does not take losses due to the recession into account? What have these states been doing with the money then?
When an independent task force reveals that state public pension plans are not able to meet its obligations, not because of employee and union abuses, but because states choose to cut their funding and "borrow" the money that was set aside to pay for them, then where is the public outcry when teachers and public employees get hammered and are threatened with the loss or reduction of their retirement benefits? When the wealthiest Americans continue to get tax breaks as "job creators" and those who have attained higher education choose to teach instead of work in the private sector get less and less compensation, AND public scorn to boot, where is the outcry from the political Right about the "redistribution of wealth" when it is paid out of teacher's pockets? Instead, the GOP tosses out a crumb or two about "out of control" teachers' unions, thuggery, etc. But who has been playing fast and loose with the money? Or the truth?
What do I know, I now am only paid 1/3 of what I made working in the private sector as an attorney? But virtually all teachers do not teach because they will make a lot of money, because the truth is that they don't. Teachers work for lower pay instead with the promise of a secure retirement. They work in the schools because they love to teach and make a difference in students' lives. Not quite the difference some politicians seek to make in our lives. Do people care about teachers anymore?