Column: Here’s final look at a few of our bigger problemsThis is my final column for the Budgeteer News and, as promised earlier, I will cover several issues I’ve written about during the five-plus years of writing these.
This is my final column for the Budgeteer News and, as promised earlier, I will cover several issues I’ve written about during the five-plus years of writing these.
Elected officials failed to set aside money for pensions
One big issue facing elected officials across America is the serious problem of public employee pensions for which not enough monazey has been set aside. You needn’t look far for an example. The DFL-dominated Minnesota Legislature voted to spend $12 million over the next two years to temporarily bail out underfunded Duluth teacher pensions.
The sad situation of Detroit might be most visible, but most of the 50 states have problems. Illinois has a huge pension gap to fill, as does Chicago. Public-employee unions rarely mention the size of retirees’ pensions because it drains sympathy from their cause. A Chicago teacher with 30 years experience can draw a pension of $78,000 a year.
Unions take heat for this, but the real culprits are elected officials who approved generous retirement benefits to keep labor peace, but failed to set aside money to pay for them.
Scope of mental illness
Another issue is the need for Americans to become educated on the scope of mental illness. This is not a rare problem to be worried about only when some obviously mentally ill person guns down bystanders.
The National Institute of Mental Health, the agency best able to know how widespread it is, says more than one in four Americans will suffer from some form of mental illness in any one year. Over our lifetimes, nearly half of us will struggle with mental problems.
Thankfully, Congress a few years ago mandated that mental illness be treated equally with other illnesses in health-care plans. Those who deal most directly with these illnesses (other than sufferers and family members) are psychiatrists and psychologists. They mostly do a good job of treating it, but they’ve done a terrible job of informing Americans of the scope and nature of such illnesses.
Stop spending money on the Northern Lights Express
An issue closer to home also needs action. In this case, the best way is for elected and appointed officials to stop spending money on the ill-conceived Northern Lights Express.
It was discouraging recently when the proposed high-speed rail system got an environmental go-ahead from the Federal Railroad Administration. The proposed train between Duluth and the Twin Cities may have no environmental problems — but has plenty of financial ones.
Millions of dollars have been flushed down the railway commode for this white elephant. I don’t think it’ll be built, at least for decades, but if it is, the waste will be measured in the billions.
Planners are unrealistic about construction costs and ridership. I’m a fan of rail travel and have used it often, but the Northern Lights deserves to be turned out.
Single-payer health care will help reform our Social Security and Medicare
Outstripping the problems mentioned above is the need to reform our Social Security and Medicare systems. These federal entitlements will claim increasingly large shares of our finite tax dollars as Baby Boomers age — but the idiots in Congress argue over side issues as they ignore this big one.
Back in the 1980s, when the executive and legislative branches were sometimes able to act, they reformed Social Security and gave themselves decades to find longer-term reform. That time has arrived but lawmakers dither.
With Social Security the needed changes are easy to find but hard politically to agree on: imposing the payroll tax on all income, altering the system that increases pensions to keep up with inflation and possibly raising the retirement age.
Also due change is the Social Security disability system. Many who qualify for these benefits deserve them, but not all do. Last year alone 3.2 million Americans applied for such aid, and federal investigators said many who don’t qualify nevertheless get benefits.
Congress recently acted with good intentions in a way that will make the problem worse. They ordered the Veterans Administration to speed up processing veterans’ disability claims. In itself that’s good, but it sends a message to bureaucrats to not only speed up claims but to approve more.
With Medicare, some savings could be found by doing more to find and punish those who defraud the system. A better long-term answer is to adopt a single-payer health care system for all Americans.
This is Virgil Swing’s last column for the Budgeteer. He and his wife Georgia and their grown son Ben are moving to Phoenix to join another son Edward. Virgil was knowledgeable and wrote about real issues. He was always on time and timely with his column and wasn’t afraid to take a stand. We will miss his knowledge, ability to take a stand and timeliness. …Editor Naomi Yaeger and the staff of the Budgeteer