President of the Pennsylvania branch of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations Rick Bloomingdale sent a letter to Democrats in the Senate to warn them about the conflict of interest and possible collusion between billionaire John Arnold and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
John Arnold is a conservative advocate who has actively sought to cut workers retirements around the country, often citing public workers’ retirement benefits as one of the biggest strains on city and state budgets around the country.
On the Laura and John Arnold Foundation webpage, it is listed that the organization has gifted around $7.25 million dollars to Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew, who is known to follow a non-partisan stance, has researched extensively pension reform in a number of states, including California, Florida and Rhode Island.
Bloomingdale believes that this massive amount of funding from a foundation with a conservative agenda has tainted the accuracy of the research and has rendered the findings biased. The Institute for America’s Future has recently released a study entitled “The Plot Against Pensions,” which supports Bloomingdale’s claims.
The study claims that there is evidence showing that “the country’s move away from guaranteed pension income…will have disastrous consequences,” and that Pew is “downplaying (or altogether omitting) any discussion of the possibility of raising revenue through, for instance, ending taxpayer-funded corporate subsidies.” Moreover, the IAF stated, “If the state-based crusade against public pensions is successful, it will probably fuel a renewed effort to privatize Social Security.”
“Arnold’s partnership with Pew is now driving and distorting the legislative debate over public pensions in at least seven states – and has helped enact huge cuts to retirement benefits in many of them,” the report says.
This is not the only instance of Arnold funding research that seems to be skewed to fit his political agenda. The New York affiliate of PBS, WNET, received $3.5 million from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to fund their series entitled, “Pension Peril,” a series promotes “cuts to public employee pensions,” according to an article written for PandoDaily.com.
Once this information was released, WNET returned the money and the project, which aired in September 2013, is now on hiatus. In a statement regarding the incident, PBS stated, “In order to eliminate any perception on the part of the public, our viewers and donors that the foundation’s interests influenced the editorial integrity of the reporting for this program,” Arnold’s money would be returned, an article in the New York Times reported.
According to the PandoDaily.com article, however, a spokesperson for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation stated that WNET had initiated the talks of funding the program, which the foundation then deemed a worthy cause to fund.
Arnold is one of the youngest billionaires in the world and formerly worked with the Enron Corporation an energy commodities speculator.
Senate Democrats Introduce Pension Reform Legislation
In other pension news, state Senate Democrats proposed a new bill that will help to refinance the billions of dollars in debt that Pennsylvania faces in regards to state-funded pensions.
Pennsylvania’s Employees’ Retirement System and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System is currently facing a $50 billion deficit, and state Senate Dems are hoping to introduce legislation that avoids a proposal made by Governor Corbett in regards to the issue.
In the bill, $9 million dollars of the deficit will be refinanced, charter schools will be barred “from receiving double-dip state reimbursements,” and lower annual payments will be instituted for both the state and public school districts, according to a release by the PA Senate.
State Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) is joined in support of this bill with the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna); Senate Whip Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia); the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Vince Hughes (D-Philadelphia); and Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia).
“The pension reform plan we are suggesting is smart and innovative. It saves money and creates a plausible responsible fiscal roadmap for the future,” Sen. Costa said. “Refinancing $9 billion in existing unfunded liabilities would decrease long-term payments by $24 billion. Over the next five years, it would save school districts $600 million and the commonwealth $1 billion.”