When are more Oklahomans going to see that today’s Republicans manufacture false crisis after false crisis in an attempt to institute right-wing policies that harm the middle class and poor?
I’m not just referring to the GOP debacle in Washington where a small fraction of Tea Party conservatives are damaging the nation’s economy and holding the rest of us hostage by preventing simple procedural votes to fund the federal government and raise the country’s debt limit.
It happens here all the time, as well, from draconian abortion restrictions that only hurt poor women to tort reform that limits damage awards to major cuts in public education precipitated by tax cuts. All the major GOP initiatives come tagged with a breathless, obligatory crisis label, but they all add up to the same thing: Extremism and crisis language replace sound government policy.
The latest manufactured crisis by the GOP surrounds the state’s pension plans. According to Republicans, the current $11.6 billion liability of these plans for teachers, state workers and first responders are creating a crisis that must be dealt with during next year’s legislative session. Essentially, that means cuts in benefits for new employees, if not, eventually, for longtime workers.
But is there really a crisis? Haven’t the fiscal foundations of these plans actually improved in recent years?
In a recent blog post, David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, argues, “It should now be time to officially declare the ‘Crisis in the Oklahoma State Pension Systems’ to be over.” Blatt carefully points out recent legislation that has actually made the state's pension plans more solvent.
I won’t rehash Blatt’s post here, but the overall point he makes is a good one.
It raises the question: Why are Gov. Mary Fallin and others targeting pension plans that seem to be gaining solvency?
Essentially, Republicans want to change the pension plans from defined-benefit plans, which guarantee set retirement payouts based on a variety of factors to defined-contribution plans, which don’t guarantee a set amount. This would most likely result in a reduction of benefits for state workers, including teachers.
There has been no actual “reform” plan presented, but it has been presumed that new hires would fall under the new method while those in the defined-benefit plans could stay in those plans.
The problem with that, of course, is that it’s uncertain what will happen if newer workers aren’t paying into the pool of money used to support the defined-benefit plans of current retirees.
If the defined-benefit plans take on more liability because of lack of funding, then the GOP could declare yet another crisis and reduce benefits for current retirees and those workers close to retirement.
Meanwhile, many state workers have gone without an across-the-board raise for several years, but the GOP, which controls Oklahoma government, doesn’t seem overly concerned about that. That’s NOT a crisis for Republicans.
By now it’s a GOP trope or formula: Manufacture a crisis, then do harm to middle-class people while rewarding the rich with tax cuts and subsidies. That’s what’s happening in Washington right now as thousands go without paychecks and that’s what happening in Oklahoma.