Privatizing Cincinnati's Retirement System -- A Bad Deal for Retirees, Workers and the City

A proposed charter amendment slated for Cincinnati's ballot this November would break its pension promises to city workers, harming working families and the city economy. It is part of an immoral national fight against retirement security.

The Cincinnati City Council unanimously opposed the amendment targeting city workers' pensions, which is why backers of the amendment had to spend $70,000 to collect the required 7,443 signatures to put it on the ballot. The ironically named Cincinnatians for Pension Reform, the people behind the ballot initiative to degrade city workers' pensions, is a group of tea party leaders from outside Cincinnati and Ohio (Paul Jacob, the president of the Liberty Initiative Fund is one). We've seen this before and we'll see it again, privatizers and the wealthy 1 percent elite trying to force the middle class to gamble their economic security in retirement on the roulette wheel of the stock market.

One important caveat is that Cincinnati city workers and their employer do not contribute into nor do they receive Social Security. The Cincinnati Retirement System was created in 1931, before Social Security, to provide a modest but dignified retirement through its defined benefit. It has done a good job.

There is evidence that this charter amendment would increase financial liabilities for Cincinnati and its taxpayers. Supporters encourage its passage and say the details can come later. However, the executive director of the Cincinnati Retirement System said, "We would have no idea how to implement it," and noted it could lead to a mass exodus of employees, the city may end up in worse financial straits by having to contribute more resources to Social Security than it currently contributes toward the Retirement System on behalf of newer employees, among other problems.

I couldn't agree more with the vice mayor of Cincinnati, Roxanne Qualls, who said:

"To start messing -- literally messing -- with the pension system by people who do not know what they are doing and who are not aware of the complications involved in terms of requirements by the IRS as well as the rules that govern us and putting people's lives and livelihoods when they retire and retirees at risk is just irresponsible."

City workers and retirees have already faced significant changes in regard to the retirement plan with major reforms passed twice by council in since 2008. These reforms raised retirement ages, made employees responsible for a greater share of medical costs, increased employee contributions, and reduced pension benefits. Public employees have done their part. It is important that the city and workers work together to find a solution that does not further compromise retirement security.

State and municipal budget crises were caused not by employee compensation, but by revenue declines triggered by the Great Recession, from which we are still recovering. Irresponsible tax cuts and giveaways during the good times certainly exacerbated the problem.

Cincinnatians, including our members there and their families, are not prepared to surrender their right to a secure retirement just because Wall Street bankers and Tea Party hacks are out for the money and are willing to pay to force it through our political systems.

Stand with the city of Cincinnati, its workers and retirees in opposing this ill-advised ballot amendment.

If you live in Cincinnati and would like to become more involved, you can contact the Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans' Bentley Davis at