By J. Robert McClure, PhD., President and CEO of The James Madison Institute
Originally Posted on WCTV6-CBS Editorial Blog on April 6, 2011 It’s been a feel-good time at the Capital this week. Florida legislators have been kissing babies, posing for photos with little kids, and giving speeches about how much they care about children. But legislators’ true commitment to Florida’s children will soon be put to the test when they vote on government pension reform. Most people think of pensions as an elderly issue, not a children’s issue. Yet, few problems are apt to affect Florida’s youngest generations more profoundly than runaway government pensions. Here’s why:For many years, politicians at the state and (especially) local level have been making generous pension promises to government employees, figuring that future taxpayers (today’s kids) can be counted on to pay for them. As a result, many government pension funds in Florida are now woefully underfinanced – particularly at the municipal level.Thankfully, a number of reformers are trying to end this generational theft by seeing to it that government employees are paid in full today – not given an IOU that they can cash in down the road at children’s expense. These reformers want to see the public sector do what almost all of the private sector has already done – replace defined-benefit pension plans with 401(k) style defined-contribution plans. Giving government employees control over their retirement savings through 401(k) plans is a good idea – especially since employees can take these retirement plans with them if they change jobs. Moreover, ceasing all government IOUs will protect Florida’s pensioners from the fate of those in Alabama and California who were left with nothing when their government pension plans went bankrupt.Most of all, switching to defined-benefit plans will ensure that those who have no voice at the ballot box – Florida’s children – will nevertheless be heard. A vote for defined-benefit pension plans is a vote for children.