As Wisconsin teachers call out sick and labor leaders storm the State Capitol in an organized attempt to put pressure on the government over legislation that would effectively be the end of union power in that state, many are wondering, “Could this happen in Maine?” The answer is, “Yes, maybe.”
Governor Paul LePage has made several recommendations in his two year state budget that have a big effect on the state’s retirement system plan. While he has made no effort toward ending the collective bargaining process in Maine as is proposed in Wisconsin, union organizers and union members around Maine are making overtures that things will get nasty when the Governor’s pension fund recommendations come before legislative committees next month.
The Governor has proposed that state employees increasetheir contribution to the retirement system from the current 7.65% of salary to 9.65% of salary. Union leaders are calling this a tax on state workers, yet they seem un-concerned with the 4.4 billion dollar un-funded liability in the pension fund that has driven this change. The Governor has also proposed lowering the cost of living adjustment for current retirees. Again, union leaders are howling that the cost of food, fuel and other necessities are jumping while retiree benefits remain stagnant. Of course, these same union leaders fail to acknowledge that the Governor did not seek to cut their benefits, as has happened in other states where their pension funds have huge un-funded liabilities, he is merely seeking to slow their growth.
There are several other substantial changes proposed in the Governor’s budget that seek to shore up the pension fund and reduce the un-funded liability. These moves will stabilize the pension fund and reduce the burden on Maine’s general fund at a time when resources are very limited.
Let’s face it. Unions in Maine have had it their way for the last 40 years in dealing with Maine’s government. The unions’ interest has never been about what is in the best interest of Maine’s future, but rather what they could “get from our government.” That reckless attitude has brought us to where we are today, a state retirement system with a 4.4 billion dollar un-funded liability and a looming pay-off of this debt by 2028.
Maybe, just maybe it is time that the union leaders in Maine finally accept where we are today and work together with the Governor to solve this problem. Of course, in doing so, they would have to forego their selfish attitude and finally put the best interest of the great state of Maine first!