Monday, December 20, 2010

As long as grass is green and the sky is blue…

There’s a line in the movie, Little Big Man , which sums up how government keeps promises. The movie’s message had to do with our Federal government’s treaties with the Indians as spoken by Little Big Man, a white man adopted by the Human Beings, “This land was promised to the Indians for as long as grass grows green and the sky is blue…”, as the U.S. Calvary massed its surprise attack on a snowy morning, the Human Beings peaceably secure on land promised them by treaty; “…but sometimes, the grass ain’t green and the sky ain’t blue”. It’s been a while so I hope the quote wasn’t botched; most folks would understand the meaning anyway, keeping promises ain’t a strong suit for government.

I joined the Houston Police Department in 1971 and agreed to the terms of employment which included a specific salary, health insurance and eventually retirement if I stuck around for a minimum of twenty years. The City would then pay 30% based on an average of the last 5 years of service upon reaching 20 years with incremental additions for each year of service beyond 20. Included in the package was the continuation of health insurance with a reasonable price tag for my spouse and any children living under your roof until they reached the age of 19.

Each time police officers went before the City to request a cost of living raise was a political battle. Sometimes we got a raise; but most of the time we ended up bargaining away a goodly portion as the City’s budget simply could not afford to keep up with cost of living adjustments. In return for being “reasonable employees” the City in turn promised to make up a small portion by adding to retirement benefits as they agreed a raise was reasonable; the City simply could not afford to pay its police officers a reasonable salary. Over the twenty years I served there were many raises which never came about; instead the 30% retirement figure originally agreed upon reached 55% of base pay.

Almost immediately after retiring from the Department in 1992 the cost of health insurance began to rise in leaps and bounds until most recently that figure has more than doubled along with our co-pay for each visit to our HMO. The city found ways to back away from their “fair share” and explained to retired officers that health care was never part of a “contract” as it is with active duty officers; that health coverage was a bonus rather than a promise, so much for grass is green and the sky is blue.

Bradley Olson’s article in this morning’s Houston Chronicle, Battle lines drawn over city pensions , raised the stakes and once again the political battle has been brought to my front door. Mayor Parker claimed she was working in the best interests of the City by asking for reductions in unreasonable retirement obligations.

“Voters elected me to make tough choices, and voters elected me to get the city’s budget in order,” Parker said. “We are hemorrhaging right now … in some of our pension costs. … There’s a difference between a fair pension and a gold-plated pension, and the citizens of Houston have to know that we can find a fair balance in there.”

When I hear things like, “it’s for the common good” or “everyone must make sacrifices”, it usually means those who have earned must share with those who haven’t; typical socialist dialogue to justify wealth redistribution. In this case Houston’s mayor wants to wheedle out of lawful contracts; not much different than her predecessor Bill White tried when he was mayor.

This is where my knee jerk reaction requires me to say, “Excuse me!”, loud and clear, enough that folks at City Hall will wonder if it hadn’t been a clap of thunder. At one time my words would have been less refined; but one of my supervisors instructed me to employ the term, “Male Bovine Excrement!” when reason and logic dictate a more harsh or common expression. I actually received an official reprimand for criticizing a junior officer who’d used poor judgment in dealing with the public. It never occurred to me a police officer would be disturbed to hear a fellow officer use the term, “Barbara Streisand!”; perhaps he’d picked the wrong profession, one can only wonder.

‘“Plans that allow people to retire after 20 or 25 years at the age of 50 or 55 and get 80 percent of your salary for life are just unsustainable in this day and age,” said Ramon Fernandez, a professor and specialist in government accounting at the University of St. Thomas.”

Maybe Mr. Fernandez is talking about some other police officer with inflated numbers like the ones pulled out of the blue; I’m still at the same 55% and don’t have any golden parachute. I had to put my staff on half salary; you know, the folks who polish the brass on my private yacht, the yacht my wife and I sail down to The Marina at Bimini Bay Resort on weekends. I had to let the bank take possession of my Lear Jet 60 with its interior done in HPD blue, custom mahogany inlay paneling and 24 carat gold embroidered executive package seating. It had been parked at Hobby Airport for months and I could no longer afford to pay a pilot to be at my beckoned call. Being retired just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

If the City of Houston declared bankruptcy they could void any and all contracts previously made; handing the checkbook and everything else over to the courts. City services would come to an abrupt and noisy halt, chaos and pandemonium would be the norm as garbage service, firemen, ambulance, sewer and water services ceased and police officers no longer were paid; much less those who’d reached retirement. Civilization as we know it would pack its bags for other pastures where grass grows green and the sky is blue.

In essence Ramon Fernandez and Mayor Parker have made another statement, one which anyone can understand, reading between the lines. “While the City has entered into valid contracts with employees for retirement benefits, sometimes the grass ain’t green and the sky ain’t blue.”

Houston has joined many other cities across the nation, discovering their lack of fiscal responsibility. The liberal left’s entitlement programs have been instituted at the expense of necessary expenditures without a care for the eventual bill which always come due. As with any political football, police and fire employees are thrust front and center as a whipping boy, their salaries are the cause of all our ills and when they retire they live like kings off the backs of hard working citizens. Sorry Madam Mayor, I’ve heard this same song too many times; keep your hands off my retirement as long as grass grows green and the sky is blue!

This article has been cross posted to The Moral Liberal , a publication whose banner reads, “Defending The Judeo-Christian Ethic, Limited Government, & The American Constitution”.


Tigersue said...

We faced this with a tragic outcome in our family. My Aunt retired early as a school teacher to help the state "save money". 18 months ago the State canceled the health insurance of all the state retires and my Aunt missed the notification. Once she did she was too sick to pick up anything else and died without insurance. Since she was too young for Medicare, and did not pass the test to qualify for disability on Medicaid we are still trying to sort out what we can pay her creditors and the hospital is not cooporating either.

I can understand the need to budget and cut, and I'm sure the state legislature was thinking "retiree, medicare, why continue medical benefits." Obviously they did not consider those people that retired early. It is a sad state of affairs.

Starsplash said...

Wow. I think that people are so not catching that this country is in some deep doooah.

T. F. Stern said...

Tigersue, We are in that same awkward situation, retired and not eligible for Medicare so the City hammered us with our health care premium this past year.

Ron, Having the future unsettled and out of your control is no fun.

Perri Nelson said...

It seems like a widespread problem to me. Politicians and the rest would rather we forgot about honoring our obligations - except when it comes to taxes.

Misplaced Priorities

MK said...

Is why i don't trust the gubbmint with squat. We out here are forced to put 9% of our salary into a retirement fund, supposedly to take care of us later in life. We can't touch this money until we're 55 and they encourage us to put more of our money into it.

Either way i don't put a cent extra into it and i don't include it in any plans because i know the bastards will most likely help themselves to it one day when we're broke and have nothing left in the piggy bank.

Trusting gubbmint is like lending the local drug pusher money and expecting him to pay it back.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I came across your blog by way of Perri Nelson because he mentioned some things you wrote in his stellar posting.

As for what you have written sadly this problem is systemic. Politicians no longer serve the people, they serve themselves.

The "For the people, by the people," has long been forgotten.

America is truly in trouble. I am bookmarking your interesting blog.

Thanks for this excellent read.


T. F. Stern said...

Layla, Glad you stopped by and left your comment.

David said...

Keeping one's word isn't something politicians have any acquaintance with. *sigh*