EDITORIAL: Playing politics with pension funds is always a bad idea

With reports filling the news of the financial problems of our neighbor to the east, no not the one just east of Skinker, our other neighbor to the east with financial problems across the river in Illinois, a great deal of which caused by decades of playing politics with pension funds.

You would think the last thing St. Louis County would want to do is play politics with their pension funds – well you would be wrong.

The County Council made a couple adjustments to their pension fund last fall meant to improve their benefits package to retain quality employees. The adjustments were non-controversial and in no way put the fund at risk.

However, one of the county employees the adjustments stood to benefit happened to the the most popular and respected county employee in the St. Louis area, Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch.

In an age where demagogues who live on extremes of both the right and the left live to cry corruption anytime someone dares to make a campaign contribution or offer an endorsement, it’s easy to get caught up in the tired and stale witch hunts.

In this case all seven duly elected members of the St. Louis County Council and the County Executive all signed off on the pension moves ostensibly of the benefit of the county they promised to serve.

Then a few months after an election where a couple of seats switched and some members of the media appear to have decided they were wrong in who they supported just three years ago – these pension adjustments became awful and flip-flops are required footwear on Tuesday nights.

More troubling may be that some members of the County Council seem to be looking to justify their reversal by saying they don’t read their packet of information on county business before they vote.

County Council members don’t get rich serving, but its not bad money for a weekly meeting. If reading the information provided to be prepared to cast votes on behalf of their constituents is too much then maybe they should reconsider serving.

One member even went so far as to say they were “blindsided” by the vote.

The bill sat on the council agenda several weeks, the sponsor visited with his colleagues, and even the County Executive wrote a memo expressly telling council members that this bill would “eliminate a reduction in county retirement plan benefits for the prosecuting attorney.”

Short of the Lord coming to a council member via a burning bush it’s hard to imagine what else could be expected.

Playing politics with pension funds is always a bad idea.

A government entity’s pension fund is one of the most complicated things that an elected official is entrusted to manage. If those elected officials do not take those decisions seriously and soberly then that government is bound to end up in trouble.

Anyone who forgets that lesson can just look to the east.

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