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Pension Wars
Unions Waging War on Arithmetic

Public employee unions have been fighting efforts by Mayors and Governors to reform municipal and state pension systems for years, but now they’re taking the fight one step further, attacking the groups that fund studies suggesting that pensions are in need of reform.

Over the past three years the Laura and John Arnold Foundation has spent millions of dollars funding major studies on public pension reform. These attempts to call public attention to fiscally unsustainable pension promises and the harsh realities of arithmetic have upset public employee unions, which have demanded that several prominent think tanks refuse or return money donated by the foundation. The WSJ reports:

Union groups also are calling on the Washington-based Brookings Institution—which has taken more than $500,000 from the Arnold Foundation from 2012 through this year to produce research on pensions—to cut ties. Spokesman David Nassar said the think tank wouldn’t return the grant money and said donors are forbidden from influencing any research.

The Pew Charitable Trusts also came under fire for accepting $4.85 million from the foundation for a report on underfunded public pensions. Meredith Williams, executive director of the National Council on Teacher Retirement, an association of teacher pension systems, accused Philadelphia-based Pew of “abandoning its objectivity” by accepting the money, and he called on the group to return it. A Pew spokesman declined to comment, but its website states that it works with the foundation because “we share the goal to help states design and adopt retirement systems that are fair, affordable and fiscally sustainable.”

It’s not likely that the unions’ crusade against pension research will go very far. A few nonprofits, including PBS, have caved to the demands, but most of the targeted groups have declined to return the money. But the offensive shows us just how far public employee unions are willing to go to defend pension promises that just don’t add up.

The unions may win a few victories here and there, but in the end math always wins.

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  • Corlyss

    What in the world took them so long? This is the tactic of choice for Dem Operatives for at least the last 20 years. Expect soon for them realize what Prof. Mead’s been talking about for some time, i.e., that the unions have been a principal means for minorities to get a leg up into the middle class. Once that happens, allegations of racism will be the weapon of first resort to stop pension reform. They’ll get Holder to start looking at the infamous disparate impact of pension reform on minorities and that will be the end of whatever passes for debate on pension reform.

    • qet

      I didn’t notice, but his stand could still be considered as principled but outweighed by another principle–profit. Many companies live or die by their brands and if those are tarnished by relentless bad press then I imagine that shows up in both the top line and the bottom line. That’s how I always interpret these apology moves, anyway.

      • Corlyss

        I don’t doubt your insight even a little bit. I suggest he could have had a lot more publicity and therefore a lot more bucks if he’d gone into those bastions of the gay lobby and dared them to do anything about it. I seriously doubt it would have cost him in the long run. I just can’t credit one with any principles when those principles are so easily and quickly compromised.

  • qet

    The math hasn’t won yet even though it has been telling the same tale for decades. On what basis can we believe in its ultimate victory? If it demonstrates anything, US politics demonstrate that math can be beaten down and kept down indefinitely.

    • Bruce

      Not indefinitely. But for longer than one would think. Look at the U.S. government debt and the Federal Reserve’s money counterfeiting. It seems like we are getting away with it, until one day we won’t.

  • S.C. Schwarz

    Where this is headed is a federal bailout for all these union pensions. We will all pay for this.

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