Arrrrr! That’s yer five r arr, me mateys, meaning it’s none other that yer favorite pirate turkey, meself Planksy, comin’ t’ Oklahoma, spreadin’ me special thanks and planks this holiday season. Ahoy, buccaneers, imagine me ship, fowl-filled, and sail-trimmed, the Jolly Roger flying high, as it sails the Sooner state, a little quaky these days me might add, but nothin’ me and me crew can’t handle so farrr.
Aye, don’t be land lubbers and listen up: This bird arrrrrives to dole me thanks and planks. If yer done good, then yer get yer thanks, a cup or eighteen from Planksy’s special rum barrel and hornpipe dancin’ aboard ship until the wee hours of the wee mornin’ this Thanksgiving. If yer done bad, and if yer a scallywag, bilge rat or lubber, well, my, my, my, yer get yer PLANKS, and a little dip with the toothy fishes swimming circles once yer do yer walkin’. Shiver me gobbler, it’s show time. Arr!
Thanks. Ahoy, lads and lasses, me first thanks go out to all yer teachers in the state, a crew of hardy buccaneers, teaching the wee ones spellin’ (me speshality) and readin’ and rithmetickin’, and all while the politicos stick their noses in yer business. Teachers here arrr underpaid and overworked, indeed, but they don’t do it for the treasure, me lads and lasses. It’s a callin’. Arrr. I tip me beak t’ yer, and I ruffle me feathers t’ yer. Come onboard for yer merry times. I’ll scoop yer rum myself.
Planks. Arr! Alas, me mateys, my first planks go to schools Superintendent Janet Barresi. She’s got her A through F scheme to rank schools, but it stinks like a dead bilge rat. It’s all about the FFFFFFFF! Is she or is she not a land lubber? Can a pirate turkey squawk? Squawk! Squawk! Arr! Arr! Barresi wants to fail schools using a system made of smelly ship barnacles, and she’s doing it with ramming speed and no one can do nothin’ about it because Janet and her crew arrr goin’ to have their way. Her point is to spread yer misery in the name of the conservative agenda, but there’s a little election lurkin’, me mateys, just a little tiny wee one.
Thanks. Ahoy, thanks galore to all me state workers, goin’ without raises all these years, doin’ their best in these tryin’ times. I unfurl me Jolly Roger in yer honor. Yer arr the glue that holds that state ship together if I do say so meself and I do. Arrr! Watch out what those politicos want to do with yer pensions. Come on board. Let’s get loaded to the gunwales. Dance a pirate’s jig with yer favorite bird. It will be like Fiddler’s Green.
Planks. Earthquakes?!!! What kind of scurvy shakin’ is going on, mateys? What’s next? The plague? In this bird’s mind, all yer tremblors, big and small, get me planks, or worse, the keelhaul. Earthquakes are NOT for the birds. How’s me ship to sail smoothly when everything is shakin’ and quakin’. Methinks those frackers got something to do with it, lads and lasses, and then add in yer climate change for yer good measure, and feathers go flying and gobblers go a shivering and there’s no place to come about in this place.
Thanks. He’s the bird with the word, with a gobbler adored and acclaimed by all. He’s the feathery swashbuckler with the handsome beak, a famous fowl with the hospitality aboard ship. Me final thanks go to meself, Planksy, for rising above the flock. Here’s wishin’ yer lads and lasses a happy Planksgiving. Enjoy that tofurkey. Arrrrr!
A report issued last week warns political leaders against changing the state’s pensions plans, noting that “Oklahoma’s pensions have turned a corner, substantially outperforming typical state pension plans.”
Some state leaders, including Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller and Gov. May Fallin, both Republicans, want to change the state’s seven pensions from defined-benefit to 401(k)-styled plans, which don’t guarantee set retirement payments. They argue that overall unfunded liability of the plans, $11.4 billion, is a major problem that needs to be urgently addressed.
But the Economic Policy Institute, along with the Keystone Research Group, has prepared a report that argues the state has financially bolstered and improved the pension plan system in recent years and that such a change is unneeded and even risky.
In a news release announcing the report, one of its co-authors, Ross Eisenbrey, Vice President of the Economic Policy Institute, stated:
After some tough times in recent years and some significant sacrifices on the part of public employees, the Oklahoma pension system is finally in order. The state would be ill-advised to backtrack on this positive momentum by shifting its basic pension plan design. Why take this moment when Oklahoma finally has its pension house in order, to roll the dice with a radically new pension design?”
The Oklahoma Policy Institute, a think tank based in Tulsa, had earlier made these same arguments as state officials began to meet and discuss changing the pension systems.
The fact that some state leaders, such as Miller, want to press ahead with changes despite the growing financial stability of the pension plans make their motives suspect. Is this a case of legitimate financial responsibility or merely an ideological move by the GOP, which dominates state government, to cut the benefits of state workers to make way for more tax cuts? Meanwhile, public pension plans are under attack by the GOP leaders and operatives in states throughout the country, including California. Let’s be clear that it was unscrupulous banking practices, not public pensions, that caused the recent Great Recession.
Miller has said the change would only impact newly hired state workers, such as teachers and social workers, but he has yet to advance a specific plan with mathematical models that show how the existing plans would remain solvent in coming years.
I won’t rehash the report in detail, but I did find these two points interesting:
(1) The report noted the state’s two largest pension plans only pay annual benefits of $18,000 and $19,000, which is not “overgenerous,” especially given low salaries here among rank and file workers and teachers. Often, those pushing for change make the argument that state employees are somehow getting better retirement deals that those in the private sector. The report provides a better perspective of that argument.
(2) The report also notes that “Oklahoma employees contribute more to their state pensions, on average, than workers in most states . . .” The retirement contributions can take a large chunk out of a paycheck. State leaders often fail to mention this fact about the state’s pension plans when they make their arguments for change and instead try to focus the public’s attention on the large pensions of specific, former politicians.
The bottom line is that the move to “change” the state’s pension plans is really about “cutting” benefits, at least for new workers. It’s quite possible that by cutting benefits, the state could have a difficult time attracting teachers or state workers, who haven’t received an across-the-board raise in several years.
State leaders are also in the process of considering a report on public workers’ salaries and changing Oklahoma’s merit protection law.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable, given the GOP-dominance of state government right now and the obvious Republican agenda of spending cuts, for any state worker or teacher to be extremely worried about all the changes now under consideration at the state Capitol. Next year’s legislative session is shaping up to be an important one for state employees.
Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision to deny a federal order that Oklahoma must process benefits for all military couples, including those in same-sex marriages, has received a lot of negative national attention.
Fallin has apparently decided that a 2004 amendment in the state’s constitution that prohibits same-sex marriage trumps federal law. She has even gone as far as ordering state facilities to stop processing any benefits for ALL National Guardsmen’s spouses, who now must use federal facilities to do so in Oklahoma.
“Oklahoma law is clear,” Fallin said in a recent statement. “The state of Oklahoma does not recognize same sex marriages, nor does it confer marriage benefits to same sex couples. The decision reached today allows the National Guard to obey Oklahoma law without violating federal rules or policies. It protects the integrity of our state Constitution and sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people.”
This unfair and discriminatory stance has been widely criticized in the news and on social media outlets in recent days. Rachel Maddow, for example, took Fallin to task for the decision in the above segment of her MSNBC show.
There are at least two important underlying issues here.
First, the Oklahoma National Guard is part of the U.S. Armed Forces. Oklahoma is one of a handful of states, including Texas and Florida, which has decided to not process benefits for spouses of same-sex couples legally married in other states. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has explicitly ordered Oklahoma and these other states to process the benefits. That means Oklahoma is in clear violation of federal law. The state’s constitution clearly states: “The State of Oklahoma is an inseparable part of the Federal Union, and the Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land.” Common sense would dictate that this basic tenet embedded in the state’s constitution since its creation clearly trumps a much later anti-same sex marriage amendment that basically legalizes discrimination.
Second, Fallin, who is running for reelection in 2014, has obviously weighed the political costs or benefits for this decision. She’s undoubtedly hoping this political stunt will earn her votes, but is she right? Oklahomans voted overwhelmingly to ban same-sex marriage in 2004, but much has changed since then. Several states, for example, have gone in a different direction and have legalized same-sex marriage. Cultural acceptance and tolerance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community has grown exponentially in this country in recent years. This has happened in Oklahoma as well. Fallin, of course, seems poised to easily win reelection, but her outspoken stance against LGBT rights could actually cost her some votes and will obviously tarnish her legacy as governor.
Let’s be clear that Oklahoma relies heavily on the federal government for its basic viability, from its military bases to aid for the state’s numerous weather disasters. Studies have shown that Oklahoma is a “taker” state that receives far more federal money than it pays in federal taxes. Given these circumstances, Fallin’s decision seems unduly petulant and calculated.