Thursday, April 05, 2007

Summit. Or, and elitist pow-wow photo opportunity for those with tall hats and rabbits

All the king's horses and all the king's men won't be able to put Humpty together again. In this case, Humpty's crack comes from stresses of pensions.

I love the line in the article, "anemic pension funds."
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is calling mayors together from 17 cities statewide to brainstorm solutions to a common problem: anemic pension funds.

The mayor plans to hold a summit on the pension problems next Thursday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown. In addition to the other mayors, Ravenstahl has invited state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato.

The Mayor's Office will release a list of those attending no later than Wednesday, according to a news release.

"Our goal for this summit is to look at the best practices among various cities and develop a workable, realistic plan to address the situation," Ravenstahl said in a statement.
This isn't a summit. It is a photo opportunity.

Luke, if you want to hold a summit, the mayors might be a good start for licking stamps and stuffing envelopes. The mayors might make a good start for testing the will for the quest to find a fix. But, the mayors are not holding the keys to our salvation.

Look to see who has been stealing from the pension funds. Has it not been the case that the politicians have been taking money from pension funds. They grab. They take. They spend. They do it under cover.

Here are some of my proposals as to what to do about this mess these guys have gotten us into.

First off, those that make the problems are often the worst to turn to at fixing it. If you've had a hand in making the mess, you are not the best suited at cleaning it up. Luke, you're so young you don't have too much dirt on your hands -- unlike Dan Onorato. But, since he's your mentor, hopes for you have been dashed.

To fix the problem, make an open summit. Everyone who is interested should be able to attend. All can bring their own video cameras. The entire event should stream to the internet. Invite the world to sit and watch and participate.

The mayors should be given a homework assignment before their arrival. Get them to contribute as soon as they arrive. I want them to put real numbers and real situations into a shared well of knowledge. I want contracts opened. I want past dealings revealed. I want a real listing of liabilities.

I want the pre-summit homework turned in and screened by hard-nosed watchdogs who check the homework and give out grades. This is urgent and should come before the first in person meeting. Everyone's response should be up for review by everyone. Honest, brutal, critical, fact-finding and reporting is necessary.

So, the first period is a return of homework to the mayors and a chance for them to reply and re-tool their advance submissions.

Peer review should fill the second period. Mayors need to rip into reports and reactions of other mayors -- in public -- on the second hour. Citizens should be able to dive into the fray with specific statements about specific pensions and programs.

The third period should be devoted to tutorials and educational efforts. Coursework on pensions should be done in an open university setting. Best practices, meta data, case law insights, tragic outcomes, and a wide range of other 'classes' should be prepared, developed, delivered and documented. Academic deans and professors should self identify.

Testing, benchmarks and evaluations should be part of the fourth period. Putting mayor's together and there is a threat of the blind leading the blind. Proven levels of understanding should become obvious to all in the open network.

The first efforts of pre-summit and periods 1, 2, 3, and 4 was about reporting, reviews, and basic fact finding of the past and present.

The fifth and sixth periods of my pension summit concept comes after the lunch break. Talk about the future come here. The next steps of the fifth and six period go to both policy proposals and integration efforts.

Give attention to specific solutions, period five. Some may have strong feelings as to what could and should be done. Those leading opinions need to be put out into the open to stand or fall on their own merits. Be sure to put solutions under the spotlight for standing or melting on their own merits.

Period six is to give cycles to systems, networks, process and organizations. I'd love to see organizational charts, concept maps, charts, and all sorts of graphics that frame various issues and understandings.

Some global questions:

What are the various types of pension funds?
What are the various health conditions of pension funds?
How many pension funds are in the state?

Some micro questions:

How does a pension fund help a retiree -- with social security, etc., by age group by income.
Where are the retired school teachers, firefighters, police, etc.
How does the VA fit into the lives of various people.
Spouse impacts.
Enron impacts.
Taxation impacts.

Here is my point: Gathering the mayors together might be a valued exercise if it leads to a grand effort of accountability, openness, reporting, and dedication to the necessary thinking involved from informed leaders.

However, I'm not interested in getting mayors together so that they can share tricks on how to further break unions, rob trust funds, destroy infrastructure and re-mortgage our future with adjustable rate burdens for our kids in the decades to come.

Let me use another example, TIFs, (Tax Increment Financing). Our former mayor, Tom Murphy, became a master at establishing TIFs. Those TIF deals were masterful, complicated, rip-offs. Murphy's TIF approach is perhaps Pittsburgh's greatest export of recent times. Other mayors and other county governmental officials have taken his strategy and plugged them into other settings. Developers and politicians alike love TIFs as they profit and the ones that get hurt are the non-voting school children.

I'd hate to see a summit on pensions occur and backfire. Don't get hoodwinked Luke. And, Luke, don't hoodwink the public. I'd hate to see a number of fast-talking weenie finance folks, sorta like PNC executives who have sold bonds to the city in the past, make a number of presentations. They'd be sure to 'uncover' a suite of new loopholes that tap into hard earned retirement money so politicians can buy new votes in the next election cycle. Meanwhile, the future gets darker and darker.

The mentality of a one-time fix is mighty. One-time fixes allow for more spending now and kill the future. They were clever and sold off the water lines. They are getting clever and are getting set to sell the PA Turnpike. Tax leins, slot licenses, bond deals, you name it... the list is long.

Pension funds should be able to pull their own weight. Pension funds can't float when the weight of politicians lean upon them.

Final goodie: I think it might be time to NUKE all pensions for all elected government officials. Let's put that on a referendum.

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