- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:


June 22

The Savannah Morning News on reforming the teacher pension fund:

Georgia’s Teachers Retirement System is straining the taxpayers. Pension fund increases accounted for $9.8 million of the roughly $14 million hole in the public school budget the board filled this week with a significant millage rate increase. That’s more than 21 times what the taxpayers would have owed toward the much-maligned - and now repealed - fire fee.

Alarmingly, that $9.8 million contribution does nothing to shore up the pension fund kitty beyond 2019.

Statewide, taxpayers have put more than $2.5 billion into the Teachers Retirement System since 2012. Yet the percentage of liability covered continues to fall - and the next significant economic downturn is sure to crater it, indicates an analysis done by the Reason Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy research organization, in conjunction with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

Rather than waste time pointing fingers about our tax woes, let’s instead issue a call to action to the lone group of leaders who can reform this underperforming and antiquated retirement vehicle: our state legislators.

Georgia phased out the pension system for state workers a decade ago. Those already employed by the state as of Dec. 31, 2008, stayed on the existing plan, but all employees hired on and after Jan. 1, 2009, moved to a hybrid pension and savings plan.

The pension, or defined benefit, component of the new plan was based on years of service. The savings part, meanwhile, was a 401(k) with an employer-matching contribution that is common throughout the private sector.

Moving teachers to a similar model has been talked about in the Georgia General Assembly but never seriously considered. The teachers associations hold tremendous influence, even in a Republican-dominated legislature. Many of the Republican legislators represent rural districts, and school systems are among the largest employers in those areas.

The Teachers Retirement System is therefore the elephant in the Gold Dome, a pachyderm best ignored.

Engage our senators and representatives in a theoretical discuss on the subject, though, and it’s clear they understand the shortcomings. They mention transitioning to a market-based, employer-matching contribution model or at the very least adopting a defined benefit structure that is based on sound assumptions.

The current plan assumes a 7.5 percent return on assets over time. Investment experts say a return around 6 percent is more likely based on the system’s portfolio. The spread equates to billions of dollars.

Teachers deserve a comfortable retirement.

They’re underpaid given the challenges involved in their work, and a guaranteed income in their golden years is a major perk.

For those entering the profession today, however, the pension model comes with guaranteed risk. The millennial generation is a transient one, both in terms of geography and career arc. Pensions like the Teachers Retirement System benefit only members who stay in the same state and at the front of the classroom for at least a decade.

A review of financial reports of teacher pension funds of all 50 states by a national nonprofit, Bellwether Education Partners, shows that for teachers hired after Aug. 1, 2016, only 29 percent will work the 10 years required to qualify as vested. Only 20 percent will work the 22 years to reach the break-even mark. And only 17 percent will reach the normal retirement mark of 30 years.

A pension guarantees these young teachers nothing, whereas a 401(k)-like plan would allow them to roll their funds over should they leave the state or change professions.

The long-held notion that changing teacher retirement plans is akin to robbing educators of their retirement deserves an F grade and a few hours in detention.

The Georgia legislature should take this opportunity to explore alternatives to the pension fund. Reform would benefit both the teachers and the taxpayers.

Online: http://www.savannahnow.com/


June 23

The Brunswick News says do not let screen time devour your summer:

Gone are the days when video games were a new and burgeoning industry and form of entertainment.

These days video games are a part of everyday life for more than a billion people around the world, according to an industry study by Spil Games. Gaming has come a very long way since the early days of arcades and Atari, the first video game console to gain widespread acceptance in the 1970s.

Today, gaming consoles are more advanced than ever before, virtual reality is entering the fray and the smartphones we carry in our pockets are capable of impressive gaming ability.

Our constant connection to the internet has also opened up a whole new world of gaming. The study estimates there are 700 million people playing games online.

All of this is very exciting for folks who enjoy video games, but there is a darker side that was recognized recently by the World Health Organization. The U.N. health agency said in June that compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a mental health condition. They believe classifying gaming disorder as a separate addiction will help everyone from governments to families and health care workers identify risks and treat them.

This may seem to some as a trivial designation, but the risks of becoming addicted to gaming appear to be very real. We are constantly being bombarded by screens and the virtual world accessible through video games can, for some, people become an obsession. When it goes too far, it can damage relationships, jeopardize a person’s ability to hold down a job and cause people to retreat from the rest of society - just as other addictions can.

It is important to note that children and adults who play video games regularly are not necessarily addicts, but understanding the possibility of a developing addiction - especially in young children - is important. Considering people who first played Atari when it was new are now entering their late 40s and 50s, adults are just as susceptible to developing the addiction.

We encourage people to try to limit their screen time this summer and take advantage of our beautiful local summer weather. Get outside, leave the screens and the video games at home and play a physical game instead. Play wiffle ball in the backyard. Toss some bocci balls at the beach. Throw some cornhole with friends.

We think that, as fun as some video games may be, the experience of fellowship and real-world interaction is something that can never be replaced.

Online: https://thebrunswicknews.com/


June 27

The Valdosta Daily Times on using fireworks:

It’s that time of year.

Get ready for things that go boom in the night.

Fireworks are legal, with certain restrictions, but are still dangerous.

As we approach the Independence Day holiday, residents are purchasing and preparing to light up the night sky with their firecrackers, sparklers, rockets and shells.

We join local leaders in urging caution and reminding residents of both state laws and local ordinances.

Fireworks are allowed in the unincorporated areas of the county from 10 a.m. until midnight July 4.

Officials have said since the legalization of rockets in Georgia, complaints regarding noise, property damage and lost pets have risen significantly.

We urge our readers to simply be courteous and good neighbors.

Pets, and even livestock, can be frightened by the loud explosives.

Even more concerning is the fact that combat veterans have reported being traumatized by loud firework blasts.

Anyone selling, purchasing and igniting fireworks has to be at least 18 years of age. Fireworks are prohibited on public roadways or parks. It is illegal to shoot fireworks under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

We want to share these guidelines from the National Council on Fireworks Safety:

- Obey all local laws regarding the use of fireworks.

- Know your fireworks; read the cautionary labels and performance descriptions before igniting.

- A responsible adult should supervise all firework activities. Never give fireworks to children.

- Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Save your alcohol for after the show.

- Wear safety glasses when shooting fireworks.

- Light one firework at a time and then quickly move away.

- Use fireworks outdoors in a clear area; away from buildings and vehicles.

- Never relight a “dud” firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.

- Always have a bucket of water and charged water hose nearby.

- Never carry fireworks in your pocket or shoot them into metal or glass containers.

- Do not experiment with homemade fireworks.

- Dispose of spent fireworks by wetting them down and place in a metal trash can away from any building or combustible materials until the next day.

There are great public firework displays planned for our region.

We encourage residents to attend the public professional fireworks shows instead of igniting fireworks on private property; it will be much more safe and a more spectacular show.

Online: http://www.valdostadailytimes.com/

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