Shortchanging Pensioners

There was a time when the word “unique” almost always was connected to conversations about Hawaii. People would say, “Hawaii’s a very unique place.”

Well, we are unique because we are located 2,600 miles from the U.S. Mainland in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and, at one time, excluded from all the breaking news from around the world.

Of course, now we are connected by fiber optic cables, wall-to-wall television with 24-hour news cycles and every kind of social media.

There is one thing that has not changed, and it’s puzzling to me. It’s how we are constantly in the news with strange surveys about how we rank nationally on matters of governmental efficiency, particularly our public education system, that just happens to be the largest single school district in the nation.

It amazes me that with all the highly paid scientists we have working at the University of Hawaii, we should be so dependent on criticism from far-off states – the latest being Virginia. A report from the Virginia-based State Budget Solutions, “Promises Made, Promises Broken – The Betrayal of Pensioners and Taxpayers,” found that Hawaii Employee Retirement System has nearly $27 million in unfunded liability.

The study’s authors say the report is an evaluation based on fair-market valuations that discount liabilities at a risk-free rate, versus optimistic investment returns used by most plans.

I recall when I was taking classes in Wist Hall at UH, and Dr. Hubert Everly used to complain that our public retirement system was going to be in big trouble if legislators didn’t stop raiding the funds in the pension system simply because there is a clause in our state Constitution that says, in effect, that any shortages in the pension fund had to be covered by the government.

Back then, there were two groups of public employees that reacted to Everly’s warnings.

One included those who were retired and wondered if the source of the retirement funds was going to dry up and leave them hurting financially.

The second group was made up of public employees who were planning for retirement and were worried that there wouldn’t be any revenues in the state Treasury to fund their retirement plans.

Everly is not around anymore, and no one in government seems concerned about the results of the Virginia-based report.

The point is, Everly was right 40 years ago. This is a betrayal that public employees should not put up with, and it’s definitely not the kind of news they should receive from Virginia! I can understand why legislators are not going to bemoan the fact that our public pension fund is $27 million in the hole.

Don’t be surprised when the Legislature just raises taxes, blames the unions, and lets pensioners swing in the breeze.