A few weeks back the ‘Our Opinion’ column in the Tri-City Times contained an opinion regarding state funding of our schools. I guess I should say the dwindling state funding of our educational system.

That commentary did reinforce my rather low opinion of some of our lame duck senators who just left Lansing and some of their cohorts that remain. In December, during the lame duck session, our Republican led legislature redirected $180 million in sales tax revenues away from the School Aid Fund. Those dollars were then earmarked for road repair and environmental site cleanup. Do you really think a bunch of Republican hacks are going to leave millions to our new 

Democratic governor to fix the damn roads? Where did that money go? 

Our state ranks last in revenue for K-12 education with per-pupil funding declining by 15 percent since 1995. Yet for eight years we listened to the governor tell us about improvements to our educational system. A few years back our rainy day fund was so fat the boys in Lansing saw fit to donate $480 million to the Ilitch corporation to subsidize building of a hockey stadium in Detroit. That money could have provided a lot of vocational training for the children of Michigan.

I ran across a disturbing fact on one of the state websites: The Teachers Pension Fund is under- funded today by an astounding $29 billion dollars; the shortfall more than doubling since 2009. Total accrued unfunded liabilities for teachers, state employees and state police (excluding legislative pensions) equals $36 billion. At this point, their healthcare plan is also underfunded by billions. 

A recent documentary about the Kentucky state teachers’ pension plan told a story of years of underfunding and poor investment choices of pension funds. For years the state told the teachers, ‘you are paid less than other states but we will make it up with a good pension plan.’ Well their pension plan is flat broke! 

How much greed would over four trillion dollars in pension fund dollars spread across this country generate? It’s not difficult to find websites telling the same stories about states investing billions of dollars of pension money in new high risk hedge funds, funds with high fees and no history of success. Then that fund donates millions back to that party in campaign contributions. 

Some of our politicians remind me of a peach I purchased last summer. It was a perfect peach—it had color, texture and the aroma made your month water. When I took a big bite, it had a quarter inch of meat and rest was brown mush to the pit. I believe some politicians are like that peach—they look good when you elect them but they just rot from the inside out just like that peach. 

While reviewing a list of state lawmakers and the pension they are or will receive a name jumped out; Mr. Ken Sikkema, a former state senator, the same guy I mentioned in my last commentary. He’s the guy that told the lame ducks ‘don’t worry about a backlash from the voters— they have short memories.’ The website shows his pension at a meager $9,100 a month. Back then our lawmakers sure knew how to cut a big slice out of fat hog. Unfortunately we tax payers are that hog. 

The State Constitution states by law these pensions have to be funded. A pension fund is dynamic and will experience periods of underfunding but at what point do the state legislators think there is a problem? The governor and legislature can’t raise two billion to fix the roads—what are their plans for the 36 billion dollar shortfall for the teachers, state employees and state police? 

—Tom Janicki