Monday, August 26, 2013

The pension madness gets even worse

A troubling trend has started on this blog. It seems like about every other day during the second half of August, we mention something about government waste and how it negates the Inland Empire public transportation system.

Yesterday, the Associated Press discovered that special interest lobbyists from private entities are receiving taxpayer-funded pension packages which includes non-government entities in California. The public should be outraged over this finding. While it's fine for a lobbyist directly employed by a government agency and advocating under his/her elected governing board to receive such perks, the situation is much different with the private sector.

As private entities, such lobby groups have no public oversight of their activities and can lobby for policies which conflicts against the will of the people. Furthermore, such benefits unfairly drain precious resources from public coffers. Those are reasons enough to ban such a practice. According to the AP, New Jersey and Illinois are two states considering legislation to stop this madness.

Illinois Rep. Elaine Nekritz stated, "It's a question of, 'Why are we providing government pensions to these private organizations?'"

Fiscal Impacts

To be fair, the AP did mention that the staffs of the involved lobby groups are small enough not to make a grave fiscal impact on the public pension system. That's understandable, but this situation is still serious enough to be classified as wasting public money. Throw in Stephen Acquario, the executive director and general counsel of the New York State Association of Counties, who was featured in the AP story.

"We want the people that work in local governments to continue to be part of the solution," he said. "We represent the same taxpayers." According to the AP, Acquario argues that his group gives local government a voice in the statehouse, and the perk of a state pension makes it easier to hire people with government expertise.

We get his points. It's understandable that private lobby groups provide the public with a greater voice and it's no question that adding a pension perk into a job opening will draw more applicants. However, taxpayers should not be taking care of a private lobbyist's retirement package. Right now, there are taxpayers who may disagree with positions by private lobby groups, but are paying into their employee's benefits. That has to stop.

The Transit Coalition's advocacy work

The Transit Coalition too lobbies its transportation positions to top officials. We are a dedicated, grassroots, all-volunteer organization that advocates a balance between many transportation modes. Our interest is in improving bus, rail, bike, airport access, goods movement, physically challenged access, and private automobile transportation in Southern California. Therefore, we have an understanding of what concerned citizen lobbying is supposted to entail, but since when are we entitled to taxpayer funded retirement benefits?

As much as we independently put together fact-based positions to give transit riders a voice, the public has every right to question and disagree with what we advocate. Those who disagree with us should not have to pay into the Coalition's campaigns through their taxes, and for the record, they do not. However, to those who do agree: We invite you to donate to The Transit Coalition.

If private entities want to lobby to the state and feds, they have every right to do so. However, they need to play the game by the rules. Entities should sell their positions to the public and business sector and pay their lobbyists through collected donations and sponsorships. However, we the people should not be in a position to pay for their operations through our taxes. If you ever wonder why we cannot afford to expand our transit operations and infrastructure despite our high taxes, this would be one of several examples.

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