April 22, 2010

"Sweet retirement deal for county's former COO"

Intelligencer/Courier Times editorial, April 21, 2010:
The Republican commissioners running Bucks County should not ink a deal with a new county boss without first publicly discussing compensation. That's the reasoned request of Democratic Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia.

Taxpayers ought to demand it.

They ought to demand it because the deal given to former Chief Operating Officer Dave Sanko, fully disclosed only two days ago, might have been more mindful of taxpayers had it been talked about in the open.

Sanko, an ex-bigwig with the GOP, was hired in 2004 at $125,000 a year, not exorbitant for the chief executive of a large organization. But let's remember that his was, and remains, a government job, which means the benefits are good and holidays plentiful.

When Sanko resigned five years later, he was earning $140,688. Again, not outrageous. But during that time, Sanko also drove a county car, compliments of taxpayers. And, it turns out, he received a sweet retirement deal, also courtesy of taxpayers.

How sweet became clear this week when the county revealed that Sanko received $76,500, the amount the county deposited into a "457" retirement fund for Sanko over his tenure. Unlike the shrunken 401(k) retirement accounts most people in the private sector have, Sanko did not have to deposit any of his own income into the account, according to the county finance director.

That's not how it works for other nonunion county workers. Their 457 retirement plans are built on the employees' own contributions; the county doesn't throw in a dime. That Sanko's retirement deal turned the formula upside down made it unique in Bucks County, the finance director said.

Uniquely generous!

In fact, when taxpayers file their federal income tax returns next year, they might consider claiming part of Sanko's retirement as a charitable contribution. Or maybe they should consider it a political contribution.

Either way, the taxpayers' generosity doesn't end there. The "deferred compensation" Sanko received is just part of his retirement deal. When Sanko reaches 60, he'll be entitled to pension payments of $18,000 a year for his five years of service here. . . .

April 20, 2010

"Sanko gets hefty check, annual pension"

By Peter Hall, Intelligencer, April 20, 2010:
Former Bucks County Chief Operating Officer Dave Sanko's contract called for the county to pay the maximum amount allowed by the IRS for a 457 retirement plan. He also qualified for an $18,000 annual county pension.

Bucks County's former Chief Operating Officer Dave Sanko received $76,500 in deferred compensation for the five years he worked as the county's top staff member.

In addition to the money the county paid into a retirement fund for Sanko, he will be eligible to collect $18,000 a year in pension payments from the county employees' retirement fund when he turns 60, county Controller Ray McHugh said Monday. . . .

"McIlhinney proposes changes to pensions"

By Gary Weckselblatt, Bucks County Courier Times, April 2, 2010:
The 10th District state senator wants plans similar to 401(k)s for school and state employees.

State Sen. Chuck McIlhinney said Thursday night he's working on legislation to change the pension system for future school and state employees, moving away from a defined benefit plan to one similar to a 401(k).

McIlhinney, a Republican whose 10th District runs through much of Bucks County and Souderton and Telford in Montgomery, said he consistently hears from constituents that nobody guarantees their retirement plans. . . .

April 5, 2010

"The pending crisis for public pensions"

Radio Times, April 5, 2010: "There's a crisis brewing over public pensions – those retirement funds promised to government employees like teachers, policemen, firemen and state workers. In most states, including Pennsylvania, there simply may not be enough money in the till to pay these retirees what they’ve been promised. According to a recent study published by the Pew Center on the States, some of it has to do with the recession and investment losses, but most of it is the fault of policy decisions that resulted in severe under-funding of pension plans. Harrisburg AP reporter Mark Scolforo and Kil Huh, author of the Pew Center report, who will put it all into a national context."

March 22, 2010

"You know what they say about statistics"

By Michael Doyle, "The Soapbox," Intelligencer, March 19, 2010:
We're told Bucks Countians are roiled up by Washington's "big spending" bills: bank bailouts, the stimulus package and health care reform. So when the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) announced its annual "fiscal prudence" ratings of Congress, local attention was focused on Congressman Patrick Murphy's "F" grade (an 8 percent score). Then Murphy was criticized for trying to spin this news. "It's hard to argue with the numbers," so they say.

I beg to differ.

You assume that "fiscal responsibility" is measurable by one number - the NTU score. It isn't.

NTU scores are just another example of focus group-tested talking points promoting the agenda of a favored constituency - Wall Street and investors - that deflect attention away from the very real problems confronting us all: economic recovery after the collapse of the housing bubble. We're drowning in such misinformation. But NTU prepared some tasty-looking bait and, as usual, some in the media swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

The "numbers" in this case don't tell the real story.

NTU (ntu.org) says it's "a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization + for lower taxes, smaller government and economic freedom + on behalf of all citizens." Sounds great. But it is an advocacy organization, and its purpose is to only promote legislation friendly to Wall Street and investors. Its issue is not good governance to benefit all Americans.

NTU's belief is that (unregulated) "free-market principles are the best way to foster growth in any economy." This is an ideological belief not based on established economic facts. Yet NTU only supports policies congruent with this ideology.

NTU rejects Obama's energy and health care bills as market intervention. It opposed the government rescue of banking and the economic stimulus plan. It thunders about the deficits while ignoring their origin: collapse of the economy on the Republican watch, reduced tax revenues and necessitated government spending to prevent another Great Depression.

So how did Murphy get the "big spender" label?

NTU used 2009 House votes involving taxation and spending (333 votes), evaluated and weighted by a factor varying from1 to 100, to give an aggregate score for each member of Congress scaled from 1 percent to 100 percent, with a letter grade, too. The weightiest 15 votes counted for 30 percent of the final score. Below 15 percent is "F"; below 30 percent is "D" (poor); "C" is satisfactory; "B" is good and "A" (over 90 percent) rates as "taxpayers' friend." Out of the 252 Democrats, only 11 (4 percent) scored above a "D," and 213 (84 percent) got an "F." By contrast, 23 percent of Republicans scored an "A," while not one got "D" or "F" - not one.

Congressman Murphy supported the economic approach started by the Bush administration and continued by Obama to stop the economy sinking into a depression through bank rescue and economic stimulus. The NTU disapproved - not a "free-market" solution - so Murphy got an "F."

So, who in Congress rated an NTU top score, a "taxpayer's friend"? Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, got 99 percent. From his Web site, he supports "free-market systems" for everything, tax cuts and more tax cuts, and privatizing Social Security. Enough said.

The NTU approach to the estate tax illustrates the point. Recent legislation (HR 4154) established a $3.5 million (double for a marrieds) exemption, with a tax of 45 percent on the excess. This means that 99.8 percent of estates pass down tax-free. Not good enough for the NTU; it wants the estate tax abolished completely. This vote was assigned a weighting factor of 50 in NTU's scoring, and Murphy was penalized because he voted for it. Congressman Flake voted against and got full marks.

As for the implication that Murphy is an outlier in the Blue Dog caucus, that's not true, either. There are 12 others with lower scores, and even the "top" Blue Dog only got a "C" grade.

We should be angry. Accountability has been missing in action. But the question is angry at whom, and for what. So many express revulsion at anything "government," and yet we've been more betrayed by corporations. It's the corporations and private wealth that run Washington. Until we take ownership of government, we can only be angry at ourselves. Where were we when Bush started a $3 trillion war, cut taxes so irresponsibly, Congress deregulated Wall Street and watched the housing bubble grow, then burst?

I'm glad Congressman Murphy voted as he did. We're in a desperate mess, but it could have been much worse - and it will be again unless we keep obdurate ideologues away from power.

Michael Doyle is a retired engineer. He lives in Upper Black Eddy.

April 11, 2009

"Lawyers' plebiscite, by the numbers"

PhillyBurbs.com, Intelligencer, by Laurie Mason, April 9, 2009: "Lawyers' plebiscite, by the numbers: The results of the Bucks County Bar Association's anonymous poll on the county judge candidates shows that most of the 335 lawyers who voted would recommend Wallace Bateman, Robert Baldi and Gary Gilman for a seat on the Court of Common Pleas bench."

"Court backs judge appointment by governor"

PhillyBurbs.com, Intelligencer, by Gary Weckselblatt, April 9, 2009: "Court backs judge appointment by governor: A candidate's bid to place the seat on the November ballot was defeated. The judicial opening created by the resignation of Bucks County Judge David Heckler will be filled by a governor's appointment, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday."

April 3, 2009

"Judicial Candidates Night"

PhillyBurbs.com: "Candidates get chance to strut their legal stuff: Lawyers Robert O. Baldi, Wallace H. Bateman Jr., Gary Gilman, Brian McGuffin and Carol A. Shelly took part in a 'Judicial Candidates Night' at the Bucks County Bar Association in Doylestown. All are vying for one of the three judge seats open in the county courthouse. Lawyers Lawrence M. Otter, Michael D. Rubin and David Zellis are also running, but did not attend the forum."