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Steve Lunetta: Government pensions are slippery slope

Posted: December 10, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 10, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Flying into Ronald Reagan International Airport outside Washington, D.C. is always fun. The prevailing winds blowing down the Potomac River collide with the calmer air over Virginia to make an entertaining swirl of choppy air when landing. What joy.

Having arrived a bit early to my industry meetings in D.C., I got a chance to run over to the Mall and renew my love affair with our capital. Shhh — don’t tell my wife.

I always find it remarkable that the Washington Monument has such a glaring error. About 27 percent up the spire, the granite changes color. Its painfully obvious that a big mistake was made. But history explains what happened.

Construction was stopped in 1854 when they ran out of money. By the time money was available after the Civil War, they couldn’t find new marble that matched the old marble. So they built it with what they had.

The Mall is populated with statues of men who have long since fallen out of memory. A statue of Allan Gallatin, the fourth secretary of the treasury, stands in front of Treasury’s north entrance.

In Farragut square, the bronze likeness of Civil War Admiral David G. Farragut points toward the White House.

Farragut is famous for his admonition, “Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!” I guess he had no concern for 200 pounds of TNT motoring at him at 45 knots. Very brave man.

One of the things I notice about D.C. is the many workers who just mill around, most of whom are government employees. Each job seems to have at least three guys — one fellow working and two watching him. I suppose the two guys are in training.

There are many security guards in D.C. as well. Since most of the museums and attractions are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and assuming half an hour at the beginning and end of day for “administrivia,” that means most of them work a normal eight-hour day,

Man, I wish I could work just eight hours and call it a day. That would be nice. I’d also like a piece of that sweet government pension system.

Republicans have been proposing reductions in the federal pension system that would bring it more in line with private-sector pension programs. The $120 billion in savings over the next decade would be applied to reducing the deficit.

To give us all an idea of how generous federal pensions are, Andrew Biggs (a writer from USA Today) plugged in hypothetical numbers to the U.S. government’s own pension website.

Assuming a $60K-per-year salary entering the workforce at age 21 and retiring at 65, the final pension at retirement would be $57K.

The typical private-sector employee will have a pension of about $25K, or 45 percent of the federal employee’s. Sweet deal.

Government employee unions, of course, want nothing to do with changes to the pension system.

As the Washington Post reports, Maureen Gilman of the National Treasury Employees Union noted that federal employees were “hit” with a two-year pay freeze in January but that “these are difficult times, and federal employees understand this,” Gilman said.

“But we’d like to see some other people in the shared pot for sacrifice before anybody comes back to us for seconds.”

So, Ms. Gilman, you still have your jobs and that is a “hit.” But anything resembling reform in the exorbitant amount of pension you receive will be resisted.

I gotta get a government job. And so do you. In fact, we should all get government jobs. That way, all of us could enjoy full salaries at retirement age and never worry about anything.

But wait. Isn’t there a country that tried that? As I recall, Greece had a similar system.

I read a report the other day that Greece is now entering a sixth year of recession and unemployment is now at 26 percent. Some forecast it will be 29 percent by New Year’s.

Is this the America that our Founding Father’s envisioned? An America where government service, no matter how slight or inconsequential, is awarded lavishly with excellent benefits, including a salary for life?

I don’t think that’s the America that Admiral Farragut would have wanted. Americans stand on their own and don’t need this pension largesse.

“Damn the unions! Full speed to capitalism!”

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and has a great pension plan — his Meadview money pit. He can be reached at

Correction: Steve Lunetta’s most recent column, “Modification affects many properties,” which ran in Wednesday’s Signal, incorrectly identified the home proposed on a Placerita Canyon split lot as a two-story house. The proposed house is one story only.


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