Finally Real Pension Reform

I spent yesterday afternoon downtown at the Shelby County Commission meeting waiting for a vote on pension reform. There was a seven vote majority for a modified plan that is real reform. It was a courageous vote and now we have to wait for a review from the actuaries and a final vote on June 6th. This sends an important message to the City of Memphis that the time for reform is now. Shelby County is in much better shape than the City of Memphis as far as pensions are concerned. Still Plan C, which is the current plan, was far too generous and costly to continue for new employees. Congratulations are due to the seven commissioners who voted for fiscal sanity, Shafer, Roland, Thomas, Ritz, Mulroy, Carpenter and Bunker. I encourage you to email and call these commissioners, thank them for their vote and ask them to hold to their positions.

Maybe the most important thing about this vote was that it sends a message to the City Council and Mayor Wharton that the City of Memphis needs to follow suit and vote a similar plan to the one passed at the County and to enact other benefit reforms that the County did years ago. The City of Memphis has $500 million dollars in unfunded pension liability and $1.2 Billion dollars in unfunded OPEB liability. They need to do something NOW.

Shown below is a message from Shelby County Commissioner Heidi Shafer.

Dear Friends,

Now that the real danger of the flood appears to be over, we can get back to “things as usual.”  Here is a brief update on Commission issues:

1)  Pension Reform–We MUST pass some type of pension reform soon.  Today we voted on the Mayor’s Plan.  I supported the Mayor’s plan (which only makes big changes to the new employees, but we did not have seven votes to pass it (the minimum number) without some compromise, so I supported a compromise plan that would still set us up to be in good shape.  The plan is not perfect, but I would rather pass SOME measure of reform and make SOME progress than make no progress at all.  And completely stalling Pension Reform and sending it back up to be studied, reviewed and negotiated AGAIN for years is exactly what some Commissioners are backing. 

The compromise plan has to go back up to the Pension Board (for a lot of complicated reasons that have to do with changing the actuarial info) and then will be voted on (hopefully) on June 7.  Please, please call, write and visit with your Commissioners and let them know you support Pension Reform Plan D (901-545-4301).  If this plan does not pass, I will bring forward an alternative in a few weeks, but it requires starting the whole process over, and we lose momentum and valuable savings. We want to turn things around NOW, not wait till the crisis is upon us.

2) Graffiti— I think we all agree that graffiti is a nuisance at best, and at worst, it is used by gangs to communicate.  It’s not just ugly, it’s dangerous.  But how you go about stopping graffiti makes a lot of difference in a free society.  The proposal we were originally presented with would have made it illegal for children under 18 to possess indelible magic markers/paint pens and spray paint; required all stores to keep markers and spray paint behind locked counters; & required all stores to keep a log of anyone buying $25 worth of those instruments for review by law enforcement, and card all purchasers.

Apart from the extra burden on businesses (which was significant and was shown to drive down sales for the retailers), I was concerned about the implications for law-abiding children who could no longer carry these markers to Cub Scouts, Youth Group, Cheer Practice Etc. The children would literally have had to show papers to prove that the markers they were carrying were required for school purposes!!!  There was no plan for what to do about homeschooled kids…And in no area where this had been tried could they prove that it decreased graffiti even a little.  I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone!

After a great deal of debate and delay, we finally stripped out the marker provision and log book completely, and left in just the spray paint and carding requirements and added in keeping spray paint in line of sight of a worker .  I voted against the final plan because I still thought it placed too much burden on the already struggling business, because there was NO data to prove it did any good, and because the expert they brought in to speak about it admitted himself that in areas where they did this, the retailers lost sales and internet sales went up.  So it looks to me as if you are just punishing the law abiding citizens and retailers, and not curtailing a thing.  The ordinance passed, but we are collecting data over the next year, and I can assure you, we will review it. 

3)  School update…Both sides have agreed to “stand down” until Judge Mays makes his decision in about a month.  The pro-Consolidation side agreed not to form the Mega school board yet and I believe SCS agreed not to push for further state legislation.  So now we wait. But there is movement in Nashville to form Innovative School Districts that could change the face of things considerably. I’ll keep you updated as information comes my way.  This is a very, very important issue for our community!

Those are the highlights for now!  Thanks to each of you for your encouragement, support and input.  I really value you!


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