Pensioned Off

Some notes for my last day of work.

Age 53: Identification

Michigan’s Governor and Legislature have claimed that a major portion of this season’s balanced budget charade was achieved by something they called Pension Reform. This is only half true, as the reform in question actually dates from 1997, when new state employees were first required to enroll in Defined Contribution (401k) plans. This year’s development is that the state government’s remaining Defined Benefits (traditional) pension employees are being encouraged to retire, which will reduce (at least for the short-term) our budget impact. I’ll leave the long-term impacts of the incentive’s pension increase, and the fact that my pension seems not to be properly funded, as an exercise for the reader. I offer a word to describe this political half-truth behavior, though: Irresponsible.

I’ve been a Michigan public servant for 33 years, and my responsibilities for the past twenty have mainly involved reducing governmental costs and improving our response times. I’m actually quite good at this, and one of the reasons is experience. I understand how the work flows in our department. I’ve considerable experience with designing, specifying, testing, and implementing systems (computer and otherwise) to simplify and automate paper-bound processes. I’ve helped move much of our business to the web–and a pair of web projects which have dominated my past year are scheduled to debut before the year’s end. I’ve worked with other departments to reduce friction on shared processes. My hypothetical replacement has valuable skills, but lacks my years of experience. She’ll bring a new perspective to the job, and that’s beneficial, but she’ll also make mistakes I’d have avoided.

Multiply this effect by thousands. Our Secretary of State Branch Offices (Driver License Bureaus, for those who aren’t from Michigan) will have fewer staffers, and on average those workers will have less experience. Joan’s sister’s a prison guard; her job’s risks will increase. This retirement rush is taking effect just as Michigan’s Treasury Department gears up for the annual tax rush. If your business calls a government office, expect the phone queues to lengthen; the person who answers the call will more likely be frazzled and less likely have your answer at his fingertips. Offices performing necessary inspections–in factories, on farms, of bridges–will be short-staffed and less knowledgable. Nearly every state office will lose staff, and the resulting stress will be visible.

Michigan’s state bureaucracy employs many folks who’ve spent thirty or more years in public service. Many of us were planning to retire in the relatively near future, with or without incentives; inevitably we’d be exchanging experience for youth in the process. On the whole, this is a good bargain. But this year’s incentive distorts the hiring pattern, as well as the retirement plans, and the impacts will be more obvious than they might otherwise have been. Again, a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision.

Enough. I’m outta here.

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