The topic of public pensions is an important and complicated one, and it is easily oversimplified. I want to respond to the Missoula Independent article “Private players: Billionaires attempt to remake Montana’s pension system” (Oct. 31) and explain how The Pew Charitable Trusts approaches this important issue.
Maintaining sustainable public retirement systems is arguably one of the most significant fiscal challenges facing states, including Montana, which had amassed $1.5 billion in unfunded pension debt even before the 2008 recession hit. By the end of 2012, the state’s retirement systems were collectively only 64 percent funded, well below the level needed to ensure the systems’ long-term fiscal health. If not addressed, the state’s growing pension debt of $4.3 billion would threaten public workers’ salaries and benefits and could crowd out other essential state services. Montana needed to find a balanced set of solutions that would offer retirement security to public workers while protecting taxpayers and maintaining the ability to deliver important public services.
Pew works on this issue to improve public policy, and with no hidden agenda. All public employees—past, present, and future—deserve a secure retirement. This begins with paying for pension promises that have already been made. But policymakers also need to ensure that they have a sustainable retirement system for the future. This can involve keeping the existing retirement plan but doing a better job of funding it. And it can also involve looking at how pension plans are designed.
At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. How states choose to address pension challenges is up to their policymakers and citizens to decide. Going forward, we need an honest discussion centered around a fair set of solutions that will offer retirement security to public workers while protecting state taxpayers and maintaining the ability of states to deliver important public services.
Public Sector Retirement Systems
The Pew Charitable Trusts
From the bottom of our hearts, we apologize for the disrespect shown to you by our county leaders (see “Revisiting racism” on page 8). The chairman of the planning board should be immediately dismissed for his ignorant bigoted comments. The commissioners also should be and will be voted out during the next election. Their extreme views do not reflect the views of the majority of the citizens of Ravalli County. We are sorry that they have disrespected you under the guise of taking care of the county citizens to the tune of $808 per year. It is shameful, ignorant and deceitful.
Sarah and Andy Roubik
The Ravalli County Commissioners invited CSKT tribal representatives to discuss the transfer of the Medicine Tree site to federal trust. They came in good faith—not to seek permission, defend the validity of their culture, history and rights, or to be insulted by racist public comment.
The commissioners plan to submit an apology for the racist comment made by Planning Board Chairman Jan Wisniewski. The commissioners have an apology of their own to make for less obvious but far more damaging actions. The county has no jurisdiction over tribally owned land and yet assumed they could control the transfer with an opposing vote. The sarcastic tone, line of questioning and rude assumptions demonstrated a stark contrast of conflicting cultural world views with regard to value of place, history and respect.
In addition to respectful conduct, K-12 students have more knowledge of local tribes than our county leaders, due to years of dedication on behalf of the CSKT, schools and cultural organizations and the implementation of Indian Education for All into our public school curriculum. Our government leaders did not have access to this education in school. Hopefully, a new generation will be better prepared to build good working relations with Montana’s 12 Indian tribes. The IEFA “Essential Understandings Regarding Montana Indians” implemented in our public schools may be viewed at www.opi.mt.gov. Answers to the commissioners’ questions are in this concise document, including the validity of oral histories, and the original necessity of tribal/federal trust agreements. Ironically, they were created due to misinterpretations, non-Indian expectations and points of view occurring on the local level.
Hopefully, the commissioners have learned something from this unfortunate event and will take full responsibility and necessary steps to mend a valuable and enriching relationship that so many have strived long and hard to build.
Art and Indian Education Specialist