- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

Oct. 15

The Telegraph, Macon, Georgia, on pay-me-later model for government:

The new consolidated government, led by Mayor Robert Reichert, is trying to get a handle on an issue that has caused many municipalities to hit the financial skids. Reichert’s administration is proposing — for new hires — changes in the benefits structure.

The county subsidizes retiree health benefits to the tune of $388 a month per retired employee. There are 229 retirees who receive the subsidy. There are an additional 130 who are eligible to retire before Dec. 31 and would receive the subsidy, which costs the county, per employee, $4,656 annually.

The Operations & Finance Committee voted 4-1 to keep the subsidy for future retirees. Commissioner Gary Bechtel was the only dissenting voice.

Other changes that will be discussed have already occurred in private industry. Current employees’ and retirees’ spouses who have access to health insurance at their places of employment would be ineligible for county coverage. Increasing the out-of-pocket costs for prescription medicines is also on the table for discussion as is making county employees, hired after May 1, 2011, ineligible for post-retirement health benefits. Former city employees would be ineligible once Medicare kicks in.

This is a sensitive subject area. The county should maintain the promises made to present and past employees. However, new hires can and should be treated differently. The county has somewhat followed private industry in offering new employees a different plan than present employees’ defined benefit plans, but it does not require them to make contributions to it.

Benefit creep has occurred all over the country, leading some cities into bankruptcy court. A recent court ruling in the case of Stockton, California, has sent ripples throughout the country. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein ruled the city, which has been in bankruptcy for two years, could toss its obligations to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System in the trash just like other obligations.

If the city is forced to stop its CalPERS payments by its debtors or reduce them, the projection is that employees will leave city in droves.

That may or may not be true. They would only join private industry employees who have lived with the reality of disappearing pensions for years.




Oct. 13

The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on NCAA being heavy handed:

Who owns your name, your likeness, your image and your signature?

In other words, who owns you?

If you happen to be a high-profile college football star, such as University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley, your identity appears to be “owned” by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

At least that’s what’s implied by UGA’s decision to indefinitely suspend Gurley last week for violating NCAA rules on earning outside income because he reportedly got $400 to sign sports memorabilia.

The boiled-down version of the NCAA rules for athletes is: You don’t get to make money off you. We get to make money off you.

That needs to change. It has to. The byzantine rules are unrealistic in the big-money world of modern college sports, where everyone is allowed to profit except the very people upon whose work the entire system is based.




Oct. 12

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia, on state races:

If this year’s political ads sound like you’ve tapped into Nick at Nite reruns of old campaigns, you’re not imagining it. That’s because there’s little new in politics; it only seems that way sometimes when candidates repackage old ideas.

If you’re facing an incumbent, the usual strategy is this: Everything bad that’s happened in the last (two, four, six) years is his or her fault, and everything good is either ignored or someone else’s doing.

Nowhere is that truer than in debating the economy. Any challengers worth their salt will seize on bad economic news and roll it up into a hardy weapon to thrash incumbents. Franklin Roosevelt did it to Herbert Hoover in 1932 with The New Deal, Bill Clinton to George Bush 60 years later with “It’s the economy, stupid.” Lather, rinse, repeat.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan famously asked Americans, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Enough voters answered “no” that he was able to sweep Jimmy Carter out of the White House.

This year’s governor’s race provides an ironic twist: Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter is dusting off the game plan Reagan used to beat his grandfather a generation ago, asking Georgians “are you better off” than before incumbent Republican Gov. Nathan Deal took office.

And it could work. Despite an economy seemingly on the rebound, Georgia’s unemployment rate remains the nation’s highest at 8.1 percent, though the state has added jobs in recent years (24,700 last month for a total of 4.1 million) and unemployment claims have dropped 27 percent.

But if you’re one of those folks out of work, or whose income hasn’t kept pace with the cost of living, Carter’s approach may indeed resonate on Election Day.

Deal points out the economy he inherited was in lousy shape, the same case made at the national level by President Barack Obama. Both are correct, yet how their policies have helped or hurt is both subjective and hard to measure short term.

Voters always will be motivated by pocketbook issues, but should remain well-informed, if not skeptical, about economic promises made from either side. When times are good, is the incumbent the cause or the rooster taking credit for the sunrise? And if they’re bad, will a fresh face make them better or worse?

It’s fair game to ask “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” However, a better question might be: Which candidate can keep that line from being pulled out of mothballs again in four years?



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