Tucson and Cincinnati confront the same model pension initiative (Prop. 201)

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

I mentioned in passing in Tucson City Council Election Preview that the Virginia-based ballot initiative activist Paul Jacob, and his Liberty Initiative Fund, according to his website, is supporting a group called Cincinnati for Pension Reform, which launched a
petition drive hoping to gather the 7,443 voter signatures required to
place a pension reform charter amendment on this November’s city ballot.

The Tea Party-backed amendment that would semi-privatize
Cincinnati’s ailing pension system gathered enough signatures earn a
place on the November ballot. German Lopez for the City Beat blog at the
Cincinnati Enquirer on August 12 wrote, Pension Amendment Earns Spot on November Ballot:

City officials acknowledge the issues with the current pension
system, but they claim the tea party-backed amendment would exacerbate
cost problems and reduce payments to future city retirees.

“Under the guise of ‘reform,’ a well-financed out-of-state group is
pushing an amendment that spells economic disaster for the future city
retirees and the city’s budget,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said in a
statement. “Current and future retirees need an income they can live on.
This amendment is a budget-buster for retirees and the city.”

City Council condemned the amendment in a resolution unanimously passed on Aug. 7.

Cindi Andrews for the Watchdog blog at the Cincinnatti Enquirer on August 14 provided more detail on the backers, WATCHDOG: Just who is behind new city pension referendum? (Source of $70,000 in funding to pay for petition circulators to gather 8,000 signatures remains a mystery):

The group behind a voter initiative aimed at Cincinnati’s pension
problems has seemingly surfaced out of nowhere, first going public with
its plans just weeks before filing petitions to make the ballot.

Now it refuses to say where it got nearly $70,000 for paid petition circulators.

Cincinnati
for Pension Reform is mostly former tea partiers who have no agenda
beyond addressing the $862 million hole in the city’s pension fund,
according to Chris Littleton, a West Chester resident working with the
committee. He was a co-founder of the state tea party umbrella group
Ohio Liberty Coalition.

The committee proposes replacing the city pension with a 401(k)-type
option for new employees and requiring a city contribution to the plans.
California-based Arno Political Consultants was paid to collect more
than 8,000 valid signatures
, enough to put the initiative to voters in
November.

The initiative is modeled after similar measures that
California and Arizona voters have passed in the last year. Another
measure, on the November ballot in Tucson, Ariz., is receiving both
“advice and funding” from the conservative Liberty Initiative Fund,
based in Virginia
.

The Liberty Initiative Fund is also touting the
Cincinnati initiative on its website, but President Paul Jacob couldn’t
be reached Wednesday to see if it is actively involved here.

Cincinnati
for Pension Reform first announced its existence and intentions in an
email to The Enquirer on July 20 that said the group had “been talking
to community residents and leaders for months.”

Littleton,
declining to name contributors, said Wednesday the committee didn’t rely
on one major donor. He also said the group is now “in the process of
raising money from people in Cincinnati, too.”

The group must
disclose donors in a campaign finance report by Oct. 24, according to
the Hamilton County Board of Elections
. In the meantime, Littleton said,
“we don’t want to make them the focus.” Littleton has pushed
conservative causes around Ohio; both the Ohio Liberty Coalition and
another group he formed, the anti-Obamacare group Ohioans For Healthcare
Freedom, were among the groups targeted by the Internal Revenue Service
for extra scrutiny when they sought tax-exempt status.

The
Cincinnati for Pension Reform committee has just three formal members –
Burr Robinson, Dan Lillback and Bill Moore – who live in Cincinnati, as
required for committees proposing charter amendments.

* * *

[Burr Robinson] doesn’t know a lot of specifics about how this proposal was formed.

“There is an organization – I can’t tell you the name of it – that created a model and offered it to cities,” he said.

Littleton said the ballot language was written by Maurice Thompson of
the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law based on measures recently
passed in San Diego and San Jose, Calif. Cincinnati labor attorney Gary
Greenberg then made some tweaks to it.

Littleton also identified Greenberg as the spokesman for Cincinnati for Pension Reform.

But
when interviewed Wednesday afternoon, Greenberg said he didn’t know how
the pension proposal would impact the city’s finances: “I think there
are people working on that.”

Both mayoral candidates Roxanne
Qualls and John Cranley oppose the initiative, as have all members of
City Council. Qualls called it a disaster for the city budget and city
employees.

German Lopez for the City Beat blog at the
Cincinnati Enquirer on August 14 added more details, Foreign Interest: Out-of-town tea party groups take aim at Cincinnati’s struggling pension system:

The city administration’s report says
it’s also unclear if the Cincinnati for Pension Reform plan would even
work as written: “Certain provisions in the Amendment do not consider
requirements imposed by federal legislation and the Governmental
Accounting Standards Board. In addition, it lacks a litany of plan
details that would be required to establish and administer the
programs.”

The changes wouldn’t affect police and fire personnel, who use a separate pension system.

In response, local leaders of all
political spectrums have joined with unions — including the AFL-CIO, the
largest federation of unions in the country — in condemning the
Cincinnati for Pension Reform proposal.
Opponents of the amendment
include Democrats such as Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and ex-Councilman
John Cranley, who are running for mayor against each other, and
Republicans like Winburn and City Council candidate Amy Murray.

Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton
County Democratic Party and the Hamilton County Board of Elections,
explains that it’s difficult to verify who exactly is funding the
Cincinnati for Pension Reform campaign since such efforts typically use
nonprofit organizations to mask the direct source of contributions, but a
campaign finance report, which petitioners will have to file on Oct.
24
, should shed light on who’s involved in the effort.

* * *

Arno Petition Consultants nearly $70,000 to gather
petitions, giving some credence to Burke’s belief.

The payment to Arno Petition Consultants
also proves the group has quite a bit of cash on hand for a local
campaign, although the sources of funding are so far unknown.

For now, it appears Cincinnati for
Pension Reform’s campaign is getting some form of support from tea party
groups outside the city and state. National tea party champion Paul
Jacob is president of Virginia-based Liberty Initiative Fund and Citizens in Charge,
two tea party groups attempting to reform pension systems in cities
around the nation
. Liberty Initiative Fund’s website in particular has a
total of two blog posts, one of which is dedicated to the Cincinnati
pension amendment.

The other blog post is dedicated to a
similar pension reform initiative on the November ballot in Tucson,
Ariz., which officials there claim will bankrupt the city by imposing
extraordinary costs for the first 15 years.

According to contribution reports from
the campaign, Jacob’s groups have donated about $81,000 in Tucson. The
National Taxpayers Union, a conservative anti-tax group, also
contributed $52,000.

Much like the proposal in Cincinnati, the
Tucson initiative would place future employees in 401k-style plans, so
the current pension system would no longer take in a new pool of
contributing employees. As employees in the current system retire and no
new employees come in with contributions, local taxpayers would be
forced to pick up the cost to keep the system afloat for old and current
employees.

Cincinnati would also be required to more
quickly pay for the unfunded liability it’s built up by underfunding
the pension system by varying degrees since 2003. That liability
currently stands at $862 million, nearly two and a half years’ worth of
the city’s operating budget.

* * *

For tea party supporters, opposition to
the city’s public pension plan also has philosophical roots. They tend
to support smaller government at every level. In the past, Jacob, of the
Liberty Initiative Fund, likened Social Security and other
government-supported entitlement programs to “a Ponzi scheme.” Similarly
to local pension plans around the nation, tea party supporters see
Social Security’s looming deficits as proof governments are making more
promises than they can keep.

For AFL-CIO communications director Mike
Gillis, the battle for the current pension system is also philosophical.
He points out that proposals like the Tucson and Cincinnati initiatives
are typically backed by Wall Street businessmen and brokers who stand
to financially benefit from more people taking up individual 401k-style
plans, even if it comes at the expense of the average worker.

Although Gillis calls the current pension
system modest, he argues the 401k-style plans would still be much worse
for city employees.

“They’re not being paid as much as they
were (while) working, and they’re not getting rich by any means,” he
says. “This pension is designed to give them enough money to live on in
their senior years.”

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is yet another anti-tax Libertarian nonprofit based in Ohio. The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is a member of the State Policy Network through its work for the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions. See, SPN Updates – Publications » State Policy Network. The State Policy Network aids ALEC and spins disinformation in the states. See, State Policy Network – SourceWatch. The SPN affiliate in Arizona is, you guessed it, the Goldwater Institute. SPN Members.

There really is a "vast right-wing conspiracy." Too bad we need to read the Cincinnati Enquirer to find out what is happening here in Tucson because our local media is so godawful.

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