I have been pretty busy lately. I have been working with others to educate about the reduction in benefits being proposed right now for the firefighters, police officers, teachers and others in South Carolina (article from the Columbia, SC newspaper The State) . This retirement system is the SC Police Office Retirement System, or PORS. The changes, however, have also been targeted at other state retirement system participants in the SCRS, such as teachers and other state employees. (You can follow along at our Friends of Hilton Head Island Firefighters Facebook link).
I and others like me are also trying to get our elected officials to understand our points of view as well. And while I am not in agreement with some of the changes, you know, I can live with the idea we need to make our retirement system stronger by making some of the changes, like eliminating the ability to use unused sick leave and vacations toward calculating your final benefit. I am someone who does believe that I should help out my brothers in public service and I want the system to be there for them as well. I don't agree that my miniscule amount of remaining leave will make up the difference, but I can see where it might help.
And you know, I don't agree with it, but I would even live with a proposal to use five years instead of three years toward calculating that benefit, to prevent the likelihood of users "spiking" their salary, although the logic is irrational (if you are working the hours, you are putting money in the system). But again, I am a team player. If you are saying you need to calculate on base pay to avoid having some communities giving astronomical raises for time not even worked will help, I'd rather see those people punished, but I can live with it.
I am even in understanding, but completely opposed to the proposal I have heard from one of our State Senators to limit retiree benefits if you continue to work for a PORS entity. Doing this would effectively prevent someone like me from retiring from our department and going to work for another city or town as a fire chief or other official. That proposal even affects my ability to serve in local public office, on school boards, or on local committees by capping the "salary" similarly. But while I vehemently disagree with it, I can see the public relations side of it. Can't have a bunch of "double-dipping" public servants bilking the taxpayers, can we?
Then to really rub some salt in the wounds, while we are having to cut positions from certain state agencies, we have our cabinet level positions hooking up their buds with cushy jobs as well, as reported by WSPA-TV. also reported in The State. And I am reluctant to even point out this official, since she was the first positive advocate we have had for the fire service at that level in over eight years, but come on, when we are laying off personnel and being told, "How would increasing personnel right now look?", well, LOOK! THIS is how it looks.
But the kicker, and the part that is the most laughable, is that while local and state employees have had to tighten their belts and sacrifice benefits they were promised more than 30 years ago, our elected officials don't seem to be willing to make the same sacrifices. In fact, it is not just our legislators, but our judiciary as well, as you can learn from this article in the Charleston Post and Courier. Our elected officials tell us about the cries of taxpayer anger over a firefighter making $40k a year actually drawing an annual benefit of $21,600 after 25 years, but I don't see the same issue being brought up by our legislators about their incredibly generous benefits. And these are just the State elected officials we are talking about. I'm not even going to begin discussing the great benefits provided to federal elected officials.
I have told everyone I know to write and call their elected officials, but honestly, having been in the position of working closely with elected officials, I know how the system works. At the state and national levels, our politicians are unresponsive to the citizenry, or at least to those who aren't part of a corporation, a Super-PAC, or some other large lobbying entity. Our elected leaders aren't leading based on shared values, but on the values of the few who get their attention and attention, in these cases, is measured in money. There is a lack of focus on the good for the whole and more effort put into satisfying the inner circle. Those who have little are being punished for having little. Those who have a lot are being rewarded with more. As Gordon Gecko so famously quipped, "Greed is Good."
The banking industry scandals are a perfect example. Regardless of your political views on the subject, the facts speak for themselves. We bailed out the banks and certain corporations. These banks and corporations took the money and instead of creating jobs and loosening credit for small businesses, they rewarded themselves with bonuses and held on the cash, generating interest on their borrowed money. And while we know what is happening is unfair, the reply is "that nobody has done anything illegal". Even more shocking, when citizens band together to protest the actions, they are lionized by those who you would think are in agreement (those of us in the middle class) as being a bunch of unemployed anarchists and thugs (as in the Occupy movement).
There is no need to "redistribute wealth" or even to make others "equal" in power status. Despite what our "leaders" say on both sides of the issues, this isn't an "us versus them" issue. This is an issue of who survives and who does not, and the chasm gets wider and wider every day. And this isn't in a foreign country that you can just ignore, either. We have people who go hungry in our own communities every day. We have people who are homeless, not because they are some schizophrenic off their meds, but because their homes were foreclosed on after they lost their jobs. We have children who have to watch their parents suffer extreme humility because they can't provide for them, not because they were lazy or taking drugs, but because their lifelong savings were drained by some puppet on Wall Street. This isn't an us against them issue because these people ARE us.
Those of you who consider yourselves enlightened need to pay strict attention to how things are unfolding. In fact, we have seen this very same scenario occur over and over again. When the Sack of Rome occurred, it wasn't because things were great for the Vandals and the Goths and they decided to get a little more; they had nothing, the Romans had it all, and when the opportunity made itself available, they took it. When the French Revolution occurred, it was the indifference of the ruling elite that created the situation. The suggestion "let them eat cake" doesn't sit well when you are starving and there comes a point where retaliation against an uprising gets overcome by the desperation of the situation.
If you are content to sit back and permit the "leaders" of our nation to make us look like idiots because you think this situation doesn't affect you, I'm going to propose to you that it will. Those of you who don't want to take action now toward moderation and cooperation are going to wake up one morning and see that the line dividing the ruling elite from those being ruled slipped over a few inches and you aren't where you were yesterday. Work positively toward educating others that success doesn't necessarily involve distribution of wealth and giving up your Mercedes. It requires a little understanding that if there is going to be belt-tightening, it has to translate across more backs than the ones who are currently the most vulnerable.
Don't be a sheep. Be a real leader. Reach out and bring someone else up to your level by being helpful, not divisive. Our nation needs us all to be one team, not fighting against each other. If you genuinely consider yourself a patriot, be together as Americans (and in our case, South Carolinians), not pitting one side against the other.