I’d typically say that the chances of my penning an opinion piece with a representative of the AFSCME government employee labor union would be as likely as my penning an article with the Easter Bunny (Like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I don’t believe in unionizing government workers). Anyway, the pension reforms passed a few years back are worth defending even if they didn’t go nearly far enough.
AFSCME and the Rio Grande Foundation usually have very different positions on a wide range of issues including contentious disagreements over New Mexico’s government pension plans.
Even though we sometimes disagree on the scope and role of government, each of our organizations supports preserving the pension reform that was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in both houses and signed by the Governor in 2013. Specifically, we oppose rolling back that reform in the name of recruiting and retention or special treatment for select groups of employees, including opposing the reintroduction of double dipping.
Prior to the bipartisan pension reform, the two funds were looking at a combined $12 billion in unfunded liabilities, and were on a trajectory to have over $60 billion in unfunded liabilities in the next three decades. While there is serious disagreement between us over whether the pension reforms went far enough, there is 100% agreement between us that the reforms were a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, some groups may be trying to cut deals with politicians during election season to give their members special treatment and to worsen the solvency of the funds. There are legitimate recruiting and retention problems across state and local governments, but using the pension funds as a piggy bank to sweeten employee compensation packages is a terribly fiscally irresponsible idea.
Yes, the condition of the funds is improving — that was the entire point of our bipartisan reform – but we need to let the reforms work before there’s any discussion of undoing even small parts of the difficult and excellent work achieved by leaders in both parties.
Undermining a successful bi-partisan reform for the sake of small political favors during election season would be a disservice to New Mexico’s taxpayers and employees alike.
Paul Gessing is president of the Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico’s free market think tank;
Carter Bundy is legislative director at the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, a union representing primarily government workers in New Mexico.