Pay more, get less pension plan: Do the math

One of the many disadvantages of having a gerrymandered Congress of majority millionaires is that the same-old, same-old people — often totally out of touch with what is reality for their constituents — keep getting elected, then reelected. In some states, thanks to both Democratic and Republican legislatures, districts are carefully drawn to ensure that the in-power-party’s candidate is a guaranteed winner. Maryland and North Carolina are prime, bipartisan, examples of creative redistricting. Maryland’s second, third and fourth congressional districts look more like a Jackson Pollock painting than a rational political map.

The problem with having a millionaire majority Congress is that so many members don’t have the same problems, goals or needs as the majority of the people they claim to represent. They have a better health plan than most voters, a better retirement program plus plenty of time off from what can be jobs for life. Although federal workers in name, Congress has become separate and above most of its colleagues in the executive, legislative or judicial branches. Members of Congress kick in a little more than regular civil servants to their retirement package, but the rewards that payoff in retirement are bigger and better than most GS feds.

Congress and the administration are now considering a package that would, if approved, force feds to kick in an additional 6 percent of salary to their retirement fund while receiving drastically reduced benefits when they retire. The plan, raising the FERS contribution rate 1 percent a year for the next 6 years, would reduce take-home pay as long as the employee was on the payroll. Once retired, under the majority FERS program, annuitants who now get partial protection from inflation would not get any cost-of-living adjustments. Even if their retirement lasted 30 years and inflation skyrocketed over that time period.

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Another proposal could force many feds to work years longer than they planned even as the government is scrambling to get more fresh-out-of-college science, math, technology types to replace people who still exercise with a cassette tape players in offices that resemble 55-or-older community centers. That moneysaver, also aimed at FERS workers and retirees, would eliminate the Social Security supplement that now goes to FERS retirees until they are eligible for Social Security at age 62. That payment can be worth thousands of dollars and is especially important to feds — firefighters, law enforcement officers, air traffic controllers and others who are required, by law, to take earlier retirement.

Workers and retirees under the more generous CSRS retirement program would also take a small, at first, hit that could keep some of them on the job longer. The congressional-administration plan would reduce all future cost-of-living adjustments for all CSRS retirees so that they would be 0.5 percent less than the actual inflation rate. While much less than the hit planned for FERS retirees it would, over time, put the retirees further behind inflation the longer they lived.

Another long-time “savings” proposal has been revived and served up this year. It would base the starting retirement annuity on the employee’s highest 5-year average salary, instead of the current high-3 system.

Until recently, all of the opposition to the civil service changes came from Democratic members of the House and Senate. (Even though some of them were silent when the Obama administration looked at some similar reductions). But now a group of nine House Republicans has told their leadership that proposed cuts are unfair and they won’t support them. That number could grow as more members of Congress take a look at their districts and discover that in many, Uncle Sam is a major (if not THE major) employer in their area. Think of a small or medium-sized town near an IRS center, a VA hospital, a federal prison or an Army or Air Force base or a Navy facility. There are many small and medium-sized communities where federal (or postal) workers are at least as important as they are to the business-community in the D.C. area.

Given their track record this year, even with control of the White House, Senate and House, there is a better than even chance none of the retirement “reforms” will be approved. But if they aren’t, they will be back in 2018. Or one, two or all of the proposals could be approved, surprising lots of people. And when, if any of them do, feds and retirees would be the big losers.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Michael O’Connell

The Trans-Siberian railway was completed on July 21, 1904, after 13 years of construction.

Source: On This Day

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