To the Editor:
A recent Sound Off titled “Unions Are A Problem” that appeared in the May 14-20 edition suggested that we can not afford to pay teachers’ retirement for life.
It is true that districts have had to significantly increase contributions to the retirement system over the last several school years. This increase was due to the financial collapse of 2008-09. Market conditions have improved recently and the Teachers’ Retirement System has posted healthy returns. That should translate to lower contributions from districts in the coming years.
It is easy to blame teachers and the retirement system when times are difficult, but a close look at the facts tells a different story. Nearly 90% of the funds paid out of the Teachers’ Retirement System come not from taxpayer dollars, but from returns on investments. Teachers themselves contribute 3% of their salary. The balance is paid through contributions from the districts. To suggest that we cannot afford to continue this benefit to teachers ignores this reality.
Taxes make up less than twenty cents for every dollar paid to retired teachers. Those dollars are spent by retirees in grocery stores, restaurants, clothing stores, car dealerships and every other business in the county. Once spent by the retiree, those dollars have a multiplying effect. The dollars retirees spend help pay the wages of the employees who work at these businesses, who then spend that pay on their own needs. This is truly a case of taxpayer dollars well spent, as those pennies invested yield dollars in results.
Further, nearly $50,000,000 is paid out to over 1,500 retired teachers in St. Lawrence County each year. That is roughly half of the annual payroll at Alcoa or Clarkson University. That is more than the annual payroll at the Canton-Potsdam Hospital.
If any of these employers were to cut their workforce, the impact on the local economy would be widely felt. Government would be called on to do something to prevent this from happening.
No one should wish for the economic impact of teachers’ retirement benefits to disappear.