Living and Retiring on our tax dollars
Passage of the property tax cut amendment in the Sunshine state will force local and State governments to run programs and services using public funds more effectively and be more accountable.
Miami Dade school teachers haven't paid for individual healthcare premiums in a decade. Now a dispute over who should pay the rising cost of healthcare insurance has pitted unions against the Miami-Dade school district. This year, the cost of providing district-wide healthcare rose $36 million -- a cost the district can't afford to cover, schools officials say. As a result, the district is asking employees to foot the bill for the price hike.
Paul Lobeck teaches debate and television production at Miami Southridge Senior High School, Told the Miami Herald "I love what I do and I have an incredible passion for it, but it's hard when I can't even buy my kids Christmas presents,'' Lobeck has been a teacher for 10-years and makes about $49,000 a year. ``It shouldn't be this way.'' he added
The representatives of the United Teachers of Dade say that plan is unacceptable, the union declared an impasse with the district earlier this month. Two other unions -- the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Dade County Schools Maintenance Employee Committee -- did the same.
While pets of Palm Beach Community College employees will qualify for discounted group medical insurance beginning in January. School officials sent a memo last week explaining the new voluntary pet benefit available via payroll deduction through the private company Veterinary Pet Insurance.
A report dated May 2, 2005 titled WORKING POVERTY: LOW WAGE WORKERS IN FLORIDA, A Research Report by Bruce Nissen and Jen Wolfe Borum of the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy (RISEP) CLR&S, Florida International University found that a high number of Florida’s low-wage workers (meaning those earning $8.23 per hour or less) exist in poverty, even if they work throughout the year. This situation can be labeled “working poverty.” Women, minorities and immigrants are especially likely to be low-wage workers, and are the hardest hit by these dynamics. There is a serious lack of affordable housing for these workers. Three out of four receive no employer provided health insurance of any type. Fewer than one in six receive a private pension, meaning they will be entirely dependent on social security income in their old age.
In Sarasota County government, administrative assistants make anywhere between $32,510 and $60,674, depending on their level of experience, while comparable positions in the private sector range between $31,335 and $36,543, according to figures from Salary.com.
Security guards working for the Charlotte County government make between $24,000 and $26,000 per year. In the private sector, they earn just over $17,000, according to market intelligence data from the Charlotte County Economic Development Office.
Miami-Dade County employees can retire with a check for 100% of their accrued unused sick time in addition to their pension. Most public agencies put a cap on the payments. According to an investigation done by the Miami Herald, 30-year employees can walk away with checks amounting to $200,000 or $300,000. This generous taxpayer giveaway has cost the county about $10 million.
Politicians and public officials counter that perks such as pay for unused sick time are needed to offset the benefits offered to private sector employees who are given stock options and other benefits to retain good employees. Private enterprise, which very rarely offers any form of retirement compensation for unused sick time, counters that the public sector offers lucrative pensions and early retirement.
The Miami-Dade County Tuition Refund Program was approved by the Board of County Commissioners in 1963. The program was created to encourage County employees to improve their job effectiveness and prepare them for increased responsibilities by receiving additional training and education. The program has refunded $9.3 million to Miami-Dade County employees since the year 2000.
All County employees are eligible for participation in the program after completion of 13 pay periods of full-time employment with the County. Employees who take “approved” coursework and achieve a grade that is “C” or higher from an accredited institution are eligible for a refund of 50% of tuition costs upon completion of the course. “Accredited institutions,” under the program guidelines, include community colleges, undergraduate colleges and universities and graduate schools. As such, over the years, county employees have sought tuition reimbursement for courses leading to Doctoral and Masters’ degrees. Presently, several county employees are receiving tuition reimbursement for their law school education at the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University. One employee applied for and received tuition reimbursement for a three-week class given by Harvard University. The cost of tuition for the three weeks was in excess of ten thousand dollars. Moreover, the reimbursement request was submitted more than a year after the course was completed (in violation of the program guidelines) and the employee attended the class while on county time.
In early March 2006, the Employee Relations Department (ERD) became concerned that many County employees were not reporting to ERD, grants and scholarships they received. Specifically, two employees in the department who had participated in the program went above and beyond the call of duty, observing and then reporting some questionable documentation.
After receiving confirmation that their suspicions were correct, they reported this to their supervisor within the ERD. The ERD then requested that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) open an investigation of the Miami-Dade County Tuition Refund Program (Program).
The OIG compiled a list of over 1500 County employees who participated in the program during calendar year 2005. The OIG, with the assistance of the Miami-Dade County State Attorney Office, obtained records from Barry University, Nova University and St. Thomas University. Thus far, the OIG has reviewed the records of approximately 275 program participants (28% of those participating in 2005.) Of the 275 County employees, 83 (30%) received overpayments totaling $182,556.00. Most of the overpayments were due to “misinformation”, incomplete information or a lack of information about grant and/or scholarship monies received. Four individuals also received overpayments due to deliberate falsification of records. Specifically, each of the four submitted false grades in order to meet the minimum qualifications for refund. The total amount of monies stolen based on the submission of false grades alone just from these four individuals is $7,563.12.
Miami City Attorney Jorge Fernandez has expensive tastes, according to The Herald. The paper says Fernandez authorized expensive junkets and oversaw a $300,000 renovation of his office that included new plasma televisions, in-wall speakers and DVD players.
"Those expenses are on top of the dozens of local meals Fernandez enjoyed using his $10,000 personal expense account -- including a $1,539 tab at the Rusty Pelican restaurant," the paper says, adding: "State prosecutors are now investigating his expense account spending."
Fernandez said these expenses were justified. (The local CBS station says the $1,500 lunch tab coincided with a graduation party for the city attorney's son. The station doesn't identify its source, nor does it include any response from Fernandez.)
Also according to the local CBS station Fernandez has performed unspecified duties at La Casita in Coral Gables; a $184 lunch tab on one occasion, a $155 lunch on another.
At the Mambo Cafe Fernandez expensed a $400 meal; a note on the check says "Christmas party."
Lunch at Larios cost taxpayers $254, and at New York's Sparks Steakhouse, Fernandez ran up a $530 tab and asked taxpayers to pay.
All of those bills were submitted without detail, despite city policy that says expense reports must include itemized receipts names of the persons present the purpose of the expense.
Taxpayers also paid for a deputy in the office to attend a "Screenwriting for Lawyers" class.
In Oakland, CA an auditor's report found municipal employees were paid at least $3 million in bonuses, leaves, cash-for-vacation deals and auto allowances from 2004 to 2006, exceeding limits set in city contracts by hundreds of thousands of dollars. This included cars, months of paid time off, overtime pay for phone calls taken at home, guaranteed pay increases, retirement accounts and year-end checks for months of unused sick and vacation time.
The following report was published on August 13, 1995, in the Miami Herald "JOANNE CAVANAUGH Herald Staff Writer As a city of Miami garbage man, Willie Harris earned about $45,000 a year. As a city of Miami retiree, Harris gets almost $60,000. Ex-City Clerk Matty Hirai pulls in a bigger pension than most executives earn on the job -- more than $90,000 a year. Frank May is sitting pretty at 47. His city pension resembles his take-home pay as assistant to the city manager -- about $70,000 a year. Miami, one of the poorest cities in the nation, offers one of the more generous early-retirement....."
Staggering numbers are coming to light because of new accounting rules issued by the Government Accounting Standards Board. They require public agencies to disclose the future cost of health care and other benefits — such as dental, vision and life insurance — promised to retirees alongside traditional pensions.
"There will be horrific financial implications," said Steven Frates, president of the Center for Government Analysis in Newport Beach. "More money will be needed for providing health care benefits that could otherwise be used for fighting fires or keeping libraries open."
Retiree health care costs have been quietly mounting for decades while public agencies have passed out generous retirement benefits during labor negotiations — often in lieu of salary increases. But government negotiators rarely considered the long-term financial consequences of awarding such perks.
Many cities and state agencies already are struggling to fully fund their pension obligations, but experts say those liabilities pale in comparison to the debt accumulated for other retirement benefits.
Last month, JP Morgan released what it considers the most comprehensive preliminary estimate. It projects the present nationwide value of unfunded health care and other non-pension benefits at between $600 billion and $1.3 trillion.
By comparison, the debt rating agency Standard and Poors estimates the country's total unfunded public pension debt at around $285 billion.