Last week I wrote an editorial asking that we examine county employee benefits — specifically our current method of a “defined benefit” system for county employees under the Florida Retirement System.
I posed the question, “What about a defined contribution system; where we put the retirement funds into the employees 401k account like the private sector does?”
The editorial drew praise from some and criticism from others — most notably from one who will collect a substantial pension from FRS.
The Florida Association of Counties reports that they are a proud sponsor of the National Association of Counties Section 457 Deferred Compensation Program in partnership with Nationwide Retirement Solutions.
Although this specific fund is a supplemental retirement income program available to county employees, there are more than 360,000 county employees from over 1,900 counties currently participating in the Program; which reports accumulated assets of more than $8.0 billion.
In the October 13th editorial, I remarked that the current FRS program “is a great system, unless you are a taxpayer.” I said that because, as taxpayers, we must guarantee the performance of the fund to grow at least 7.75% every year as well as guarantee that the participants who retire will receive an annual increase in benefits of at least 3% per year.
I wish I could find an investment that made those guarantees to me as a taxpayer — since I do not believe that public employees deserve a better pension plan than the taxpayers who pay their salaries. Most of us have taken the hit in our money market and stock based retirement funds; why should county workers be exempt from the consequences of the depressed economy?
The “defined contribution” based plan that I think should be considered can be funded from taxes collected under our annual county budget, provides county employees with a retirement benefit which I believe they deserve, however, as taxpayers, we would no longer risk being taxed twice if the fund did not achieve predefined guaranteed performance levels.
As we have seen, there are no guarantees in life.
Under our current retirement benefit system, county and other public employees who participate make no contribution to their retirement whatsoever. Unless they participate in a supplemental deferred compensation program, they are saving nothing for their future needs. With inflation and health care costs steadily rising, employer-sponsored retirement savings plans have become increasingly important.
The reality is that many public employees may not be prepared for retirement. Statistics show that more than half of all Americans report less than $25,000 in total savings and investments. Even more startling; approximately 40 percent of workers between the ages of 45-54 report the same.
It can be hard to budget for saving, particularly for women, who often work less and make less than their male counterparts, or for low-wage earners, who are more focused on day-to-day expenses. But these employees and others, still need to realize that later comes sooner than we think.
We will find solutions for the future that will balance the needs of public employees against the checkbook of the taxpayer; however, new ways of looking at old processes will be required by elected public officials who are not afraid of the challenge.
The week long National Save for Retirement event is the first congressionally endorsed national campaign dedicated to promoting retirement saving, and encouraging employees to save in their employer-sponsored plans.
For more information about National Save for Retirement Week, visit www.retirementweek.org.