examiner.com | Watchdog sets sites on Indiana Governor

TUA’s call for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to release pension data was featured in this article on examiner.com.

December 9, 2011. Indianapolis. The citizen watchdog group Taxpayers United of America made a public request that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels release his state’s government employee pension information. Most states in the US have admitted to being a victim of their own generosity with regard to government employee pensions. Critics would rephrase that, saying the taxpayers are the victims of state employee greed regarding those very same pensions. Without a transparent system, Indiana residents have no idea how fair or unfair the system is they’re being forced to fund.

In neighboring Illinois this year, the reform PAC ‘For the Good of Illinois’ was successful in forcing the Land of Lincoln to release its employee pension records. What the taxpayers found was staggering. Some go so far as to call it criminal. In one indicative case, a teachers union representative was allowed to work for one single day as a teacher. From that one day of service, the union boss has been collecting a six-figure pension each year. In another instance, yet another Washington-based union boss pulled a similar trick and now collects more than $1 million per year in taxpayer-funded pension payments.
Recent discoveries like those are fueling the nationwide movement for transparency in government. It’s also due to last year’s almost $1 trillion dollar Federal bailout of city and state budgets. Those same budgets are being drowned by overly burdensome government employee pension deals. In just one example, last week’s edition of this column titled, ‘Ribeiro Schakowsky rematch in IL CD 9’, quotes US Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) explaining the need for a teachers union bailout. The Congresswoman took partial credit for passing a bill in Washington that “provides $10 billion dollars to help prevent teacher layoffs due to massive shortfalls in state budgets.”
In Indiana, things are different. There is no transparency.
“I have written a letter to Gov. Daniels, urging him to change the culture of secrecy surrounding government employee pension benefit amounts. He can champion enforcement of Indiana’s existing freedom of information law: IC 5-14-3-1, regarding access to public records” wrote Christina Tobin, Vice President of Taxpayers United of America. She quotes the law, writing, ‘All persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government…’
Tobin goes on to call the Governor to task over Indiana’s apparent secrecy. “Indiana has refused to release the names and pension amounts for its retired employees at every level of government.  There is a culture of resistance and secrecy around the salaries of current employees as well.  Indiana State and local government officials have been more resistant in providing salary data than any other state in which we have researched the government pensions” Tobin wrote, “In states like Indiana that refuse to disclose individual pensions, we estimate pensions for current employees using their current salaries and the specific pension rules for the fund in which they participate.  While this provides a reasonable estimate, the people have a right to know actual pension amounts.”
Christina Tobin and Taxpayers United of America go on to remind Governor Daniels what it’s like to live on Main St. these days. “Speaking of the total pension funds in terms of millions of dollars doesn’t mean anything to average working people who are making $30,000 or $40,000 a year” Tobin wrote the Governor, “But when people see that they are paying to support the lavish, million dollar payouts of their retired neighbors, the problem becomes very clear. In Indiana, the government employee pensions are funded entirely by the taxpayers with no employee contributions.  This is the peoples’ money and they have a right to the details of the spending of it.”
The taxpayer advocacy group finished by appealing to the Indiana Governor’s fiscally conservative side, “Governor Daniels has championed some important fiscal improvements in Indiana and we are calling on him to again lead the way to a transparent culture of government, by and for the people.”For more information, visit TaxpayersOfAmericaUnited.org.

WISH-TV 8 | Group calls for more transparency on state pensions

Christina Tobin, Vice-President of Taxpayers United for America, was featured in yet another WISH-TV 8 story on Indiana’s growing pension problem.

Updated: Wednesday, 16 Nov 2011, 8:23 PM EST
Published : Wednesday, 16 Nov 2011, 8:21 PM EST

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A national taxpayer rights group came to Indiana on Wednesday, armed with figures it says shows your tax dollars are being spent on what it calls “lavish” pensions.
The news conference by executives from Chicago’s Taxpayers United of America (TUA) came just one day after I Team 8 exposed details of a state law keeping more than $2 billion in annual pension payouts confidential from the taxpayers who fund them.
“The real issue here is that, in Indiana, they don’t release the pensions. There needs to be more transparency in Indiana. There definitely is not enough,” said TUA Vice President Christina Tobin.
Because Indiana law prevents the public release of pension payout information, the group says it estimated those payouts instead. Its estimates include university administrators, coaches, professors, judges, teachers and other public employees. TUA says its findings show hundreds of the state’s current top salary earners could get total lifetime payouts that reach into the millions of dollars after they retire.
“The pension payouts are so high, if we don’t reform the pensions, we’re going to have serious issues, not just in Indiana, but nationwide,” Tobin said.
But some aren’t convinced.
TUA’s estimations assume employees will retire at the age of 55, under their current salary, after remaining in their current position for at least 30 years.
Because not all on the estimated list will fit those assumptions, some say the group’s numbers are far too high. Under Indiana law, most of the state’s retirement funds require at least 10 years of service to be vested. Some on the list have not even satisfied that requirement yet.
Asked by 24-Hour News 8’s Troy Kehoe if high pension payments to individual public retirees are contributing to the state’s $14 billion shortfall in pension funding , IUPUI Professor Dr. Craig Hartzer shook his head.
“No,” he said. “When you look at other states and you look at the average annual benefit that our retirees are getting, that’s not going to be an issue.”
Hartzer served as director of Indiana’s Public Employee Retirement Fund (PERF) for more than 20 years.
“In fact,” he continued, “I think we need to do a better job of letting people know that the average retirement benefit in our state is extremely low. And pay tends to be lower for the same kinds of education levels. I think the pensions in the public sector are designed to retain public employees, because you don’t get vested until at least 10 years of service.”
According to retirement system documents obtained by I Team 8, the average pension benefit given to a retired public employee in fiscal year 2010 was around $19,500, though the average benefit from the state’s seven separate retirement funds was closer to $24,000. The state also claims only about 1,700 retirees – or about 1 percent – get more than $36,000 in pension benefits per year.
But Tobin argues there’s no way to prove that because the state’s confidentiality law prevents the public from seeing hard data to back up the state’s claims.
“In other states where we do get pension information, the majority of those individuals do get 20-30 year payouts. These are estimates. That’s the best we can do,” she said.
Hartzer agreed that lifting at least some of the curtain of secrecy on the system might help remove some suspicion.
“Maybe it could be a bit more transparent than it is today,” he said. “But I do think the information is there. I think it’s more helping people find the information they’re looking for.”
Tobin remains convinced the state should go even further.
“We want pension reform, is what we want. We aren’t saying to take away the pensions. We’re asking for them to put more money into the system so it’s less of a burden on the taxpayers,” she said.
The group is calling on Indiana legislators to end fully funded state pensions for all new government hires, replacing it with a “401k-style” defined contribution plan.
“If each current government employee were required to contribute an additional 10 percent toward his or her pension, taxpayers would save billions of dollars,” TUA said in a news release.
Others say that would take away benefits the state has already promised, and without the proper education, some worry forcing employees to manage their own investments could be problematic.
“Some of these are going to be very, very drastic and difficult answers to what we’re looking for,” said Rep. David Niezgodski, D-South Bend, a member of the General Assembly’s Pension Management Oversight Commission. “But, what happens 20 years down the line if we do all these things, and now everyone is completely without? That becomes maybe our problem again.”

NBC Indianapolis | Anti-tax group criticizes Indiana pensions

Findings from TUA’s pension project are featured in the following article by NBC 13 Indianapolis.

Updated: Nov 16, 2011 12:05 PM CST
A national taxpayer organization says large amounts of tax money are being spent on what it calls “lavish” pensions in Indiana.
By law, Indiana is not required to release the amount of money distributed in pensions. Taxpayers United of America says it has estimated those amounts.
The organization says the three highest annual pension amounts belong to Indiana University basketball coach Tom Crean and the presidents of IU and Purdue.
Taxpayers United of America estimates Crean’s pension on retirement will add up to $198,000 each year. It also estimates the pension for Purdue President France Cordova to be $148,500 a year and IU President Michael McRobbie more than $144,000 a year.
“We are going through a recession and right now the pension payments are so high, if we don’t reform the pension we are going to have serious issues not just in Indiana but nationwide,” said Christina Tobin, Taxpayers United of America.
The group, which has also gone after Illinois’ pension system, believes public employees are paid too much money and that their pensions are too high. It wants to end pensions for all new government hires and eliminate unfunded government pensions, as well as require all current government employees to contribute an additional ten percent towards their pensions.
The group says the pensions could add up to millions of dollars for each individual over their lifetime.