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Letter to the Editor: Here is what people need to know about public pensions

As a retired public school educator with more than 31 years devoted to serving thousands of Arizona’s students and their families, I am concerned that the public has been given some misinformation about public pensions. Since this is a personal issue for me (and tens of thousands of other retired educators), here are some facts about my pension that they need to know.

linda-somo

Linda Somo

Throughout my working career in public schools, I paid into my state retirement, the Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS), which was matched with contributions from my employer, the school district. During those years, I accepted lower pay than I could have gotten in the private sector because I loved my profession and was passionate about helping students achieve their full potential. Plus, I also knew that I would have a secure retirement that was guaranteed to me through a “defined benefit” pension system. That was promised as my reward for devoting my life to public service.

Recent news articles have berated my type of pension program and touted the supposed benefits of a 401K type retirement. However, numerous studies have proven that the defined benefit type of pension is far superior to a 401K type pension, which is subject to an unstable stock market and provides no guarantees to the retiree. Not only does my pension guarantee that I can’t outlive my benefit, but it also guarantees that I will continue to be part of a group of retirees who provide a positive impact on Arizona’s economy. Moreover, at a time when public education is so underfunded that districts can’t provide increases in salaries for devoted teachers, a guaranteed retirement benefit is an important incentive keeping those teachers in the profession.

Although my monthly retirement check is a modest amount, I know that I can count on receiving it for the rest of my life, and never be fearful of outliving it, because MY pension system is solidly funded. As a woman, I don’t have to fear spending my later years in poverty, or becoming dependent on public assistance. I am confident that I will remain a contributing member of the community for the rest of my life, adding to the economy instead of being a burden to taxpayers.

-Linda Somo is the retired past president of the Arizona Education Association.

One comment

  1. What you say is true, to a point. In the last several decades benefits for public employees have increased to the point that no one seriously argues anymore that public employees receive less compensation than their private sector counterparts. It is interesting that you mention your 31 year career as a public servant. I am college educated and am finishing the 39th year of my career, with at least 4-5 more years to go before I can retire. Public employees enjoy the right to early and rewarding pensions which are much more attractive than those in most of the private sector. What’s worse is that it is easy to mask the true cost of these benefits by exaggerating assumed future rate of returns on assets and other actuarial assumptions. It is also easy to kick the finding can down the road to future projects politicians and taxpayers. The beauty of defined contribution plans is that taxpayers know EXACTLY what it costs for public employees and politicians are forced to raise the revenue currently for the services provided and compensation earned this year. This is much more transparent than the current system.

    Lastly one of the things than many taxpayers find odious about benefits for public employees is that they are negotiated between unions and the politicians that the unions help to elect. Who represents the interest of taxpayers? Short answer – no one.

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