The debate over public pensions has an interesting history, which I witnessed close up and personal during my last few years working for Sempra Energy. Since the mid-1990s, corporations like Sempra, and a scary segment of the Republican Party, have been pursuing a strategy of stripping older workers of their pension benefits.

For more than half a century, companies and public agencies offered traditional defined benefit pension plans, and were able to pay those benefits with no problems.

Around 1990, private companies were convinced by pension consulting firms that they could increase their profits by reneging on decades’ worth of pension promises. Congress, under both Clinton and Bush, stood by while private companies froze their workers traditional pension plans and replaced them with far lower paying alternatives, even though they would have no problems paying benefits under the traditional plans.

After stripping private company employees of most of their pension benefits, this group is now going after public agency pensions, typically by adding up all the benefits a worker would accrue over their entire lives, and treating them as a bill due to their public employers today, when it reality, the agencies have decades to collect taxes and pay off those benefits.

This degradation of promised pension benefits is one reason voters are so angry and feeling so powerless today. People know that their house is now worth far less, that their pensions are evaporating and that their employers are cutting their healthcare benefits. And there doesn’t seem to be anything they can to stop this nightmare.

This leaves them easy victims of political operatives happy to provide them with scapegoats, but usually not the real culprits who are causing their problems. Instead of the large corporations who stole their pensions and healthcare benefits, or the banks that cratered the value of their homes, we are told to focus our fears and anger on minorities and “liberals.” Far too many docile people are falling for this nonsense peddled by folks like Dick Army and Karl Rove.

We need to separate the bogus claims being made by the anti-employee pension “reform” advocates from the truth before getting sucked into their worldview.

Employees and retirees who have lost most of their promised pension benefits are far more likely to end up on public welfare programs and Medicare, driving up costs for all taxpayer in order to benefit large corporations and a small clique of fearmongering pension consultants.

Do your own homework and sort out the facts before jumping on the anti-workers and anti-unions bandwagon. Think for yourselves, and stop following demagogues if you want this nation to survive. Remember, sowing class hatred and fear during an economic depression is how the Nazis got their start. Let’s not repeat that mistake here in America.

In addition to his other affiliations, Don Wood is also a member of the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition, an alliance of local civic organizations dedicated to preserving and enhancing public access to downtown San Diego’s waterfront, which is currently involved in ongoing litigation with the port over its alleged failure to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved the proposal to build the new structure on the Broadway Pier.

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