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McDonnell: It’s not about politics; it’s about math

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Building off of the GOP presidential debate Monday night, Social Security and retirement was the topic du jour of Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell’s monthly call-in show on WNIS Norfolk on Tuesday morning.

“There’s no way to pass on a great country to the next generation if we don’t get entitlements under control,” he said. “There’s not enough spending cuts in other areas.”

McDonnell said he agreed with most of the Republican presidential candidates who say there is a need to overhaul the program, and said that turning Social Security into a personal retirement fund is “one of the ideas that certainly could be explored.”

“There [are] a number of ways to do it. [You’ve] got to make sure that people that have been getting ready to retire and guaranteed certain benefits – you certainly can’t pull the carpet out from underneath them, but I think we’ve got to look at ways to look at ways from everything from the benefit level to the payment level and look at some entrepreneurial ways to look at giving people the ability to control their own lives and their own outcomes with making their own decisions on where to put money,” he said.

“I think the whole idea is personal responsibility – whose responsibility is it, ultimately, to plan for your retirement?” he said. “Well, it’s yours. It’s your family’s.”

He did add that it was a federal issue, but he looked forward to having input.

“This isn’t about politics; it’s about math,” he said. “I do think that longer-term reforms to entitlements are absolutely necessary for the good of our country – it does mean sacrifice for all of us – for you, me everybody is going to have to realize that we can’t afford to do things the same way.”

Mr. McDonnell also reiterated that he was “neutral” in the presidential race at this point, though he did praise GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry, Texas governor and his former cohort as the Republican Governors Association, of which he is now chairman.

“He is a friend – we’ve worked together on issues there, and I very much applaud Governor Perry’s record on job creation and growth in Texas,” said Mr. McDonnell, who will join Mr. Perry at a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Virginia Wednesday in Richmond.

Mr. Perry has taken significant flak — including during the debate Monday night — for describing Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme.” While McDonnell was calling into the show, former Virginia governor and Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine was holding what could be described as a “prebuttal” to the RPV fundraiser — a forum in Richmond with seniors on the future of social security. The event is part of an ongoing campaign launched last week by Mr. Kaine’s camp “to raise awareness about the Republican Party’s efforts to disparage and dismantle social security.”

Mr. McDonnell also said there needs to be an honest discussion on ways to reduce the estimated $18 billion in unfunded liabilities in the Virginia Retirement System. The governor proposed a number of changes to the system during the 2011 session, which included forming an optional defined contribution plan, akin to a 401(k), for VRS.

But the General Assembly largely punted on the issue, ultimately approving legislation to require employees hired before July 1, 2010 to pay 5 percent of their salaries into the system, to be offset with a 5 percent raise. Employees hired after that date already pay 5 percent into their pensions.

“We’ve just got to find ways to make the math work,” he said.

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