Do as I say, not as I do

Published 10:04 am Friday, April 5, 2013

To the Editor:

I normally watch television to be educated, informed, enlightened, etc. and seldom to be amused by satire, comedy, or mindless jokes. However, today I heard one of the most mindless jokes ever, and that is that someone in the federal government has decided that it needs to teach teenagers how to budget wisely. Can you believe it? A government, which owes about $17 trillion and has not balanced a budget in years — if ever — claims to know how to teach our youth how to budget. Is that a joke? Perhaps it was April Fools one day late.

I also heard that the city of Stockton, Calif., has filed for bankruptcy, largely because it is $700 million in debt, plus it owes $1 billion to the California Employee Pension Fund. Unfunded pension liabilities are a big problem in this country; one which is hardly ever mentioned, and one with which I am personally familiar. When my former employer, Pan American World Airways, declared bankruptcy in December 1991, and I lost my job, the company had an unfunded pension liability of $1 billion. The IRS had granted Pan Am three successive years of waivers, and many employees received only about 50 cents on the dollar of anticipated, contractual retirement benefits. Hooray for government watchdogs!

And speaking of budgets, let’s consider something even closer to home than Stockton, Calif. I was out of town and missed the Southampton County Board of Supervisors meeting in March. I understand it was standing room only and some 75 people had to stand in the hallway. What happened to the practice of holding such meetings at the high school? As usual, I read, there was a huge cry for increased spending for the school system. One thing I can’t understand is that money for new school buses was included in every budget for the past ten years, but no new buses were purchased by the school board. Someone suggested that I not write this because it is hearsay, but I suspect it is not hearsay if it was told to me directly — and it was. Both of the following statements, by county officials: “We have a dysfunctional school board” and “If our school board were a corporation, it would be filing for bankruptcy.” One additional statement to me by another county official: “Our level of debt is acceptable.”

I cannot understand any of these statements, and why we allow a dysfunctional school board to keep spending money intended for buses on other items and then expecting the county’s taxpayers to bail them out once again. Spending money we don’t have looks an awful lot like Stockton, Calif., and Greece, and our federal government. Where does it stop? How soon before our county employees and schoolteachers are informed that their pensions have become unfunded liabilities, and that the money was spent on something else?

Ash Cutchin