On Walker pension scheme: Politifact yourself, Journal Sentinel | Wis.Community

On Walker pension scheme: Politifact yourself, Journal Sentinel

[img_assist|nid=72460|title=Redacted|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=166|height=161]The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this morning follows up our own weekend blog post on Gov. Scott Walker's effort to paint his "study" of the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) as merely thoughtful and prudent, rather than rapacious. With a decidedly different take, of course.

More important, the item in the newspaper's Politifact column (link below) makes us revisit a question we've asked before:

When the Journal Sentinel writes about the pension plans of other public or even private workers, shouldn't in the interest of good journalism it fully disclose the fact that its parent company, Journal Communications, Inc., itself has a pension plan? 

And when the newspaper editoriailzes about or makes pronouncements about the efficiacy of the state pension system, and when it backs Walker's efforts to "reform" that pension program for 400,000 local and state public employees across Wisconsin, shouldn't it disclose that it's been tinkering mightily with the pension program serving its own employees? Do you think that might otherwise represent an undisclosed conflict of interest? After all, as the Associated Press reported in Ocober 2010:

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel publisher Journal Communications Inc. says that on Jan. 1 [2011] it will permanently freeze benefit accruals in its current pension plan and supplemental benefit plan. Instead it will offer enhanced 401(k) matching contributions to its employees.

Similarly, Walker has spoken of bifurcating the Wisconsin Retirement System, creating a "defined contribution" plan for new hires that would amount to a risky 401(k). The Journal Sentinel editorially has been rather tolerant of this concept and even defensive about it, as in today's Politifact, which rates as "false" a chain email warning pubilc employees across the state that Walker's ongoing and unprecedented study of the WRS is just a precusor to making changes that will wreck the pension system.

As county executive, Walker proposed a move toward a 401(k) plan for the Milwaukee County pension system, which echoed Republican efforts nationally to bifurcate Social Security and Medicare. As actuaries and fiscal analysts note, shifting new hires to a 401(k) type system eventually means the entire pension system would disappear in favor of that system, as older workers and retirees died. That would no longer be a pension system at all. Yet Politifact says it's "false" that Walker has plans to do precisely that. Well, true, maybe he doesn't have plans. Just designs.

But whatever the degree of Walker's own rhetorical bifurcation (he fixed the deficit, but he has a deficit; he doesn't want to touch the WRS, but he's touching the WRS already), the Journal Sentinel needs to let its reporters and editors disclose its own financial interest in this type of activity -- an interest that affects not only its workers and stockholders, but also its readers.


February 27, 2012 - 9:51am