Fordham Institute report on teacher pensions flawed, not credible

Last week, the Fordham Institute released a study that erroneously claims teachers in Minnesota and in most states would be better off investing retirement contributions on their own rather than receiving a TRA defined-benefit (DB) pension after a career of teaching. The study used flawed calculations and methodologies to arrive at this conclusion by very significantly underestimating the value of a TRA pension and overestimating an individual’s ability to earn high investment returns.

The study’s calculation of future pensions used outdated life expectancy data that predict far shorter life expectancies than Minnesota teachers experience and made other erroneous assumptions about likely retirement ages. These miscalculations shortened the projected pension payout period by 10 years. The study’s numbers also inflate the potential earnings an individual is likely to earn from investing their own contributions. Below is a detailed description of the problems and miscalculations found in the study.

Pension Accumulation/Payouts: The study

underestimates the value of the MN pension benefit for several reasons:

1. The study uses Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 2007 life expectancy tables, which predict far shorter life expectancies than MN-specific teacher mortality tables predict. For example, CDC tables predict an age 60 female will live to age 84 while TRA’s mortality tables predict they will live to age 90.2. CDC tables predict an age 65 female will live to age 84.9 while TRA’s tables predict age 90.3. Due to life expectancy errors alone, the study’s calculations shorten the likely pension payout by between 5 and 6 years.

2. The study assumes a teacher retires at the plan’s statutory normal retirement age, which in TRA’s case is age 66. In reality, TRA’s average retirement age is about age 62. By assuming a beginning payout age of 66, the study shortens the payout period by another four years. These years are excluded in the pension wealth accumulation part of the equation.

3. The study’s combined use of an overly advanced retirement age of 66 and wrong mortality tables results in a predicted payout period of 18 years to 19 years whereas using TRA-specific data results in a payout of over 28 years, a very material difference of over 10 years.

4. There are no references in the study indicating that the authors incorporate COLAs in the calculation of pension payouts.

Accumulated contributions plus interest: The study greatly

overestimates the value of the teacher’s theoretical cumulative contributions plus investment earnings by assuming individuals can invest and earn as much as large institutional investors. This is very optimistic and unrealistic. Here are the study’s flawed assumptions regarding potential investment earnings.

1. The study assumes the individual is capable of earning a very aggressive compound annual return, net of investment fees, of 8.5% in each year of the teacher’s entire working career.

2. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), Morningstar advises individuals making retirement plans to use an expected return on their investments of 5%.

3. Previous studies show that individuals tend to earn 1% to 2% less per year than institutional investors due to high investment fees, less skill than institutional investors, and no access to certain high-performing investment sectors such as private equity and venture capital.

4. Individuals investing their own assets must reduce their risk as they approach retirement age and move more retirement assets into lower-performing bonds and other fixed income investments. This was not taken into account in the study which assumed an 8.5% return each and every year through the age 66 retirement age. The current investment market climate shows how retirees near retirement are struggling to eke out very low single digit returns on bonds and fixed income investments.

Teachers highly value retirement plans as an extremely important job feature. The DB pensions that cover the vast majority of teachers address an essential retirement security need –

replacing income when one stops teaching. The DB pension adds value by assuring that teachers cannot exhaust their retirement savings and will not be hurt by investment losses and inflation. School systems use pensions to recruit, retain and manage the teaching workforce.

Defined contribution plans help teachers manage employment risk, making portability easier for teachers who leave. However, studies have shown that workers need to save more in a defined contribution plans to offset the lower returns in self-directed retirement accounts and make sure that retirement savings last for as long as a teacher will live. Teachers live much longer than average workers and, in TRA’s case are predominantly female. Three-fourths of TRA retirees are women.

Calculations for school districts conflict with results of more extensive analyses of alternative retirement plan designs done for teacher pension plans. Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association (COPERA) is an example of a system recently studied by the state’s auditor in an extensive 217-page analysis of typical teacher tenure patterns based on several plan design alternatives. In every situation, COPERA’s pension replaced a higher level of income than all of the alternative designs. For example, even a teacher who teaches for only three years would receive 40 percent more retirement income from COPERA than from investing the $6,700 refund and buying an annuity.

Courtesy of Communications Office

Teachers Retirement Association

Public Employees Retirement Association

Minnesota State Retirement System

 

Pension commission hears public testimony on TRA, St. Paul Teachers funding proposals

Teachers Retirement Association stakeholders testified Tues., Feb. 14, at the Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement (LCPR) regarding TRA’s board-approved 2017 financial proposal.

Eighth grade social studies teacher John Bartholow, who teaches at St. Michael-Albertville School East, said that he would question whether to remain in the profession if drastic changes are made to the TRA pension. He cited a Towers Watson study that found that young workers consider a defined-benefit pension an important factor in accepting a job and staying on the job. Teacher effectiveness improves with experience, Bartholow said, and the teacher shortage will worsen if pension benefits are cut.

LeMoyne Corgard of Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota said that the TRA pension is a staple of the teaching profession and that active teachers have contributed a substantial portion of their income to their pension. The TRA proposal is balanced and will help sustain the system, Corgard said.

Isle Public Schools social studies teacher Jennifer Ernest spoke about her experience as a young archaeologist who decided to work in a small community school teaching K-12 history, science and social studies. Despite the relatively low pay for teachers, she said she hopes to retire with a sound pension someday. She added that it’s difficult for small school districts with limited resources to absorb contribution increases without state aid.

Rodney Rowe of Education Minnesota testified that half of teachers leave the profession in the first five years, so good benefits are important. EdMN supports TRA proposal because it is balanced, he said.

Lonnie Duberstein, president of the Retired Educators Association of Minnesota, said he can’t ask his retiree members to support a permanent 1 percent COLA and pointed out that the proposed employer contribution increase would still leave Minnesota well below the national average. Duberstein testified about his decisions as a young teacher to remain in the profession despite higher-paying job opportunities.

Representing active and retired Minneapolis teachers, Louise Sundin of the Committee of 13 also testified in support of the delicate balance of the TRA legislative package. Sundin pointed out that 75 percent of active teachers in Minnesota are women, and a high percentage of those are single and heads of households. “Without our public pensions we will become your wards,” Sundin said, noting that the average TRA pension check is a modest $1,800 per month. Research shows that women are 80 percent more likely to become impoverished, she said.

Sundin said that active teachers took a four-year cut as part of the last pension bill because their contributions rose 2 percent. Starting salaries in the mid-$40,000 range make it hard to recruit young talent, especially with heavy burden of student debt, she said. Sundin asked LCPR to keep the normal retirement age at 66, saying that she has a friend who teaches kindergarten and “can’t get up from those little chairs.”

Joan Beaver, board member of Education Minnesota Retired, said that EdMN Retired supports TRA’s proposal and stressed that pensions provide an important economic boost to Minnesota communities. She said that two-thirds of retirees have borne benefit cuts and that benefits are not keeping pace with inflation. TRA’s proposed lower COLA translates into a reduction of about $573 a month, she said. Even so, retirees are willing to share in the sacrifice for the good of the fund, Beaver said.

REAM vice president Paul Ehrhard similarly testified that pensions are a key element in teacher recruitment/retention and that he can’t support a COLA that’s at “1 percent for infinity.”

Representatives of school districts and school boards also testified. Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, said his group supports TRA’s proposal and added that the TRA board engaged employer groups in the deliberation process. He stressed that state funding to offset increased employer costs is important, especially because previous TRA contribution increases were absorbed by school districts. Amoroso pointed out that the governor’s pension proposal only funds the contribution increases for two years and additional funding will be needed in the third and fourth years.

Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, said that his group worked with TRA and supports the state aid mechanism in the TRA bill. Croonquist explained that the school aid pension adjustment mechanism is efficient and equitable because it will reimburse districts for their actual increased costs.

Grace Keliher of the Minnesota School Boards Association backed up the testimony of Amoroso and Croonquist and credited Gov. Mark Dayton for recognizing the need to help school districts cover the increased pension costs. Keliher said she supports including a mechanism in TRA’s bill that covers the entire 2 percent employer increase.

Earlier in the evening, the LCPR heard testimony regarding the St. Paul Teachers Retirement Fund Association (SPTRFA) legislative proposal. Mike McCollor, vice president of the SPTRFA Board of Trustees, Mary Gilbert Dougherty of St. Paul Schools, and Brian Rice of the St. Paul Teachers Pension Political Action Committee testified in support of the St. Paul funding bill. Rice stated that it is wise and prudent to lower the investment return assumption to 7.5 percent based on action taken by other states, and that this will keep the system’s financing solid for the long term.

The pension commission approved non-controversial changes to pension system actuarial assumptions – some of which were requested last year. The 2016 administrative bill (SF545/HF565) will be the vehicle for other pension funding reform measures that may be approved by the commission later in the session, LCPR chair Julie Rosen said.

In closing, Rosen said that the process of evaluating the systems’ proposals is only beginning and that while it’s important for LCPR to hear concerns, stakeholders shouldn’t assume that the commission has a course of action already in mind.

Courtesy of Minnesota TRA Communications

LCPR hears testimony on investment assumption, Blue Ribbon Panel recommendations

The Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement (LCPR) held its first meeting Tues., Jan. 31, and elected Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, as chair and Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, R-Sartell, vice-chair. Sen. Sandy Pappas, D-St. Paul was elected secretary. Rosen said that it’s an honor to serve on the pension commission, which has a history of crafting pension legislation in a bipartisan manner.

The commission then heard testimony from Mansco Perry, executive director of the Minnesota State Board of Investment (SBI), Myron Frans, commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB), LCPR staff, and representatives from the pension commission actuaries at Deloitte.

Perry reviewed SBI structure, investment strategies, asset allocation, and annual return history. He reported on investment consultants’ expectation of a 7.3 percent return for the next 10 years. Perry said that the expected return is just one element in developing an assumed rate of return on pension investments, and he observed that there has been a very significant drop in the assumed rate of return over a fairly short period of time. He said that it is inadvisable for the number to bounce around, and that the rate expected by investment consultants might increase in the future. There is a need to come up with a thoughtful way to determine the rate, Perry said.

Frans presented the recommendations of the governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Pensions, saying that the governor asked a panel of financial professionals to review pension plan proposals and provide advice on whether to include these reform proposals in his budget. Frans said the panel felt the 8 percent investment assumption is too high and should be reduced to 7.5 percent immediately to more accurately reflect plans’ potential unfunded liabilities.

The panel acknowledged that public pensions are important to thousands of Minnesotans and provide sound financial base for recipients and the state, Frans said. The panel also supports the shared sacrifice approach developed by pension system boards and believes that funding at the state level should be made available to help reduce unfunded liabilities. Frans said the panel suggests pursuing reform strategies in the future to manage COLAs and contribution levels.

Deloitte representatives said that lowering the return assumption lowers the risk of being unable to meet obligations, and said that a more conservative rate (7.5 percent) is preferable. Deloitte provided a letter to LCPR stating that 7.5 percent is reasonable and that they don’t recommend different rates across the pension systems.

The Deloitte actuaries also noted that Minnesota is above average in management of pension plans. Deloitte also noted that other states, employers generally pay twice as much as employees while in Minnesota the ratio is closer to 50/50.

Rosen said that Frans will return next week for additional testimony regarding pension finances.

Courtesy of Minnesota TRA

TRA board OKs legislative proposal despite concerns

The TRA Board of Trustees on Wed., Nov. 16, approved a legislative proposal that would lower the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) for retired teachers from 2 percent to 1 percent for 10 years and 1.5 percent thereafter.

The proposal also calls for a 2 percent increase in the employer (school district) contribution rate, from 7.5 percent to 9.5 percent, phased in incrementally. The employer contribution rate increase would be offset by a request for state aid to cover school districts’ pension costs. The active-teacher contribution rate would remain unchanged at 7.5 percent.

Representatives of the Retired Educators Association of Minnesota and Education Minnesota Retired said they were disappointed with the decision to lower the COLA to 1 percent for 10 years and said they could not support the proposal.

Another major area of contention around the package was the board’s decision to not increase the active-teacher contribution rate. Groups representing employers argued this should be an element of the proposal.

Board member Mary Supple, who teaches in the Richfield School District, said she “cannot in good conscience support raising the active portion.” Supple said she was speaking as one of the few active classroom teachers on the board who deals with the pressures teachers face every day. She said that she was teaching when the Rule of 90 early-retirement option was eliminated, and she has seen first-hand the toll it has taken on teachers forced to work past the point of burnout.

“I do not think it is in the interest of this state to continue to dump on young teachers, to continue to drive people out of the profession,” she said. “I work with these people every day. Some of us are just hanging on until we can retire. … Actives have been paying their fair share and continue to pay their fair share.”

At 7.5 percent, Minnesota teachers pay a higher amount than the average nationwide, which is 6 percent. Minnesota school districts currently contribute 7.5 percent to TRA for their teachers’ pensions, compared to an average 12.9 percent nationally.

School boards representative Kirk Schneidawind expressed serious concern with the proposal to raise employer rates by 2 percent. Schneidawind said that it’s unclear whether state funding will be available for districts to shoulder the increased pension costs, and school districts need to know that their operational and programming budgets will be held harmless.

He said the last time TRA sought major financial adjustments in 2010 it was more of a “full partnership.” Even though there was no state aid involved, active teachers did contribute more at that time. (Active teachers’ contribution rates rose from 5.5 percent to 7.5 percent, phased in over four years.)

In 2010, retirees accepted a two-year COLA freeze as well as a permanent reduction in the COLA from 2.5 percent to 2 percent, and Walt Munsterman of Education Minnesota Retired said the new proposal means retirees “are getting nailed again.” Curt Hutchens of the Retired Educators Association of Minnesota (REAM) said that since he retired in 2005 there have been more benefit “take-aways” than benefit increases, and retiree buying power is deteriorating.

Added retiree Tim Moynihan: “I understand the gravity of the decision, but this is not a good day for retirees. … Please try to find a way to do better than this.” REAM and EdMN-Retired member Joan Beaver noted that this package will be “a very tough political push.” “I don’t know how we’re going to rally our members to get behind this,” she said.

The board’s effort to settle on a financial proposal was prompted in part by pressure to lower the fund’s assumed rate of return on investments. Lowering this assumption from 8 percent to 7.5 percent has the effect of worsening TRA’s funded status and prompting the need for lower benefits and higher contributions. This comes on the heels of economic and demographic assumption changes – such as longer member life expectancies – that also negatively impact TRA’s financial status.

At its Oct. 24 meeting, the board discussed the investment return assumption, which is used to project TRA’s long-term financial trends. The board voted to lower the investment return assumption to 7.5 percent for three to five years while a study is conducted; then the rate reverts to 8 percent. Also, the study would evaluate processes and governance structure for changing the investment return assumption.

A proposal last winter that had the support of all of TRA’s stakeholder groups failed to win legislative approval – in part because of the lack of state funding to cover increased costs to school districts. A stopgap bill that would have cut the retiree COLA without any employer or employee contribution rate increases was vetoed by Gov. Dayton.

Shortly thereafter, the fiscal year ended with a poor investment return logged into the books.

Courtesy of Minn TRA Communications

Pension veto still bugs House Republicans

By: Kevin Featherly, October 3, 2016, Politics in Minnesota Capitol Report

It may seem like old news, but House Republicans still fume that Gov. Mark Dayton last May vetoed a pension reform bill with nearly unanimous support.

“Normally a bill that has a 75 percent or bipartisan vote, the governor will not veto,” said 11-term Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont. “This one had all but four members voting for it. Yet he vetoed it. I couldn’t understand it.”

It was a little noticed in all the chaos and drama at the end of last session, but Dayton did in fact reject a widely supported omnibus pension bill, Senate File 588. In his veto letter, he explained that the bill co-authored by Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement chair Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, R-Sartell, and vice chair Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, failed to spread the pain of reduced benefits equitably.

The one-time, one-year fix would have lowered automatic cost of living adjustments for most retired state agency workers from 2 percent to 1.75 percent and for retired teachers from 2 percent to 1 percent. It represented a one-time savings of about $81.5 million. Of that, roughly $18 million would have come from reductions in retiree benefits managed by the Minnesota State Retirement System. It administers most state agency worker retirement plans, plus some University of Minnesota and Metropolitan Council plans. The remaining $63.5 million in savings would have come from a one-year cost of living adjustment reduction for retired teachers; the Teachers Retirement Association manages those benefits. A third major retirement plan administrator, the Public Employees Retirement Association of Minnesota, was not involved.

The deal-breaker for Dayton was that the bill required no increased pension fund contributions either from active employees or employers. “It is not fair and I cannot agree to it,” he wrote.

The veto came despite broad legislative support. In the House, only Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, Rep. Linda Slocum, DFL-Richfield, and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, voted against the bill. Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, was the Senate’s lone no vote.

“I was really stunned,” Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said of Dayton’s veto. Davids, the chair of the House Taxes Committee, said pensions are constantly monitored by the Legislature. When pension bills are brought forward, they generally are bipartisan measures that pass and are signed almost automatically. “It’s kind of a no-brainer,” Davids said.

Pappas said she expected some pushback when she co-authored the bill, but assumed everyone involved would understand that the measure was meant merely as a first step toward a more complete pension fix to be tackled in 2017.

“I wanted to get a head start on the savings from the [cost of living adjustment] cuts,” Pappas said. “I was very disappointed.”

 Newly issued actuarial tables show that Minnesotans are going to live, on average, two years longer than actuaries projected less than a decade ago. (Source: Minnesota State Retirement System)

What might have been

This might disappoint even more people: By pushing forward only the one-time fix to retirees’ cost of living adjustments, the commission responsible for vetting pension legislation passed up an opportunity to save much more money.

Executive directors for both the Minnesota State Retirement System and the Teachers Retirement Association say that earlier in the truncated 2016 regular session, they helped craft a much more comprehensive proposal that would have put pensions on a sounder long-term footing. That package was never forwarded to committee by the pensions commission.

Their plan would have reduced pension liabilities by a combined $1.5 billion over 30 years, or roughly $50 million a year. Administrators say it had buy-in not just from the funds’ boards, but also labor unions and other stakeholders.

“Non-passage of the comprehensive proposal was a big deal,” said Dave Bergstrom, executive director for the Minnesota State Retirement System. “It would have made a big funding difference, no doubt.”

As it happens, Bergstrom’s pension fund is in relatively good shape. As of June 30, 2015 (the beginning of fiscal year 2016), the Minnesota State Retirement System reported accrued liabilities of $13.1 billion against $11.6 billion in assets. In other words, it was 88.9 percent of the way toward full funding of its anticipated long-term pension payouts.

Things are a little tougher at the Teachers Retirement Association. On June 30, 2016, it reported $19.7 billion in assets against $25.6 billion in actuarial liabilities—the amount of money needed to pay benefits. So it is only 77 percent funded.

However, as often occurs in the pension world, things recently got more complicated. Newly issued actuarial tables show that Minnesotans are going to live, on average, two years longer than actuaries projected less than a decade ago.

J. Michael Stoffel, the Teachers Retirement Association’s deputy executive director, said that increased life expectancy means the fund’s $20 billion in assets must now be stacked against liabilities of $30 billion. Minnesota State Retirement System liabilities likewise ballooned, from $13.1 billion to $13.8 billion, with no corresponding increase in assets.

Making matters worse, pension funds’ ongoing investments are down from their 1990s heyday. After several consecutive years of worse-than-expected returns, pension fund earnings for fiscal year 2016 will likely be nil or even slightly negative, said Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans.

Those factors are what led the two pension plans, backed by various stakeholders, to pitch their $1.5 billion pension reform package to the commission, to reduce liabilities and move toward full funding, administrators said.

Richard Kolodziejski, public affairs and communications director for the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, said his union supported the reforms even though it would have meant workers would have to dedicate bigger chunks of their present paychecks toward future pensions.

“One of our major legislative initiatives is to maintain the sustainability of these funds,” Kolodziejski said. “We want to be a participant at the table, to make sure that these funds are healthy. That is always going to be our position.”

A case of heartburn

O’Driscoll’s 14-member commission is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Because the Republicans have a House majority, there are five Republican and two Democratic House members on the panel. Likewise, because DFLers own the Senate majority, the commission has five DFL senators versus two from the GOP. During the 2015-16 biennium, the panel’s chair gavel belonged to the House. Next year the Senate will have it.

O’Driscoll said the comprehensive plan he received for consideration gave several House Republicans a bad case of “heartburn.” The problem, he said, is that while the Minnesota State Retirement System fund would have increased both employee and employer contributions, the same was not true of the teachers’ pension. Only school districts’ contributions would have increased under the original plan, not teachers’.

That made it a nonstarter for O’Driscoll’s GOP colleagues, he said, and not just because teachers weren’t willing to take the same financial hit as their employers.

Perhaps the bigger reason, he said, is that the school districts themselves were unwilling to pony up without help. For the comprehensive proposal to work,  increased school district contributions would have to be offset with school aids from the state’s general fund.

In other words, the state would have been on the hook to the tune of $48 million a year, forever, O’Driscoll said, had the original plan gone forward. That would have cost Minnesota an extra $1.3 billion over 30 years in general fund revenues.

When it was obvious that idea was going nowhere, O’Driscoll said, Pappas led efforts to craft a pared-down version that included only short-term cost of living adjustment cuts for current retirees. That was the version the Legislature passed and Dayton nixed.

O’Driscoll still can’t believe it. “It was a strong, largely bipartisan piece of legislation,” he said. “I mean, it blows my mind.”

Possible revival

Tomorrow is always another day, of course, and despite the collapse of this year’s efforts, comprehensive pension reform may not be a lost cause.

Pappas said she likely will be handed the pension commission gavel in 2017 as its senior DFL senator. If so, she said she will put forward a long-term pension fix. If Dayton puts comprehensive pension reform into his budget, and Democrats advocate forcefully enough for more state aid to cover school districts’ raised contributions, she thinks it could pass as early as January 2017.

Minnesota Management and Budget’s Frans said that the time might be right. “I believe that we have got some really good information about where we are,” Frans said. “We should take this opportunity to reduce the unfunded liability and make these plans more sound.”

O’Driscoll’s feelings are less sunny. The pension veto, after all, was not the only one last session. Coupled with Dayton’s tax bill veto over what amounted to a typographical error, O’Driscoll said, the pension veto demonstrates Dayton’s lack of good faith. House Republicans will not likely soon forget that, he said.

Does that mean they would resist Dayton should he move forward on comprehensive pension reform? “I don’t know,” O’Driscoll said. “I’m just saying that some legislators are going to say, ‘We tried to do our part. Why didn’t the governor do his part?’”

Vote early in person

You can vote early with an absentee ballot at your local elections office. If you are not registered, you can do so in person if you show proof of residence.

Locations

For most elections, you can vote in person at your county election office. Some cities and towns are offering in-person absentee voting for the 2016 primary and general elections.

Hours

For most elections, absentee voting locations must be open during their normal business hours starting 46 days before the election. In addition, locations offering absentee ballots for federal, state or county elections must be open:

  • The last Saturday before Election Day (10 a.m. — 3 p.m.)
  • The day before Election Day until 5 p.m.
  • This does not apply to school districts holding standalone elections.

Some local jurisdictions may provide additional absentee voting days or hours beyond the above required days and times. Call your jurisdiction for more information.

2016 Dates

GENERAL ELECTION

First day to vote early in person  Friday, September 23
Last day to vote early in person Monday, November 7

Have an agent pick up your ballot (agent delivery)

In special situations, you may ask an agent to pick up and return an absentee ballot for you. This is called ‘agent delivery.’

To qualify for agent delivery, you must live in a:

  • nursing home
  • assisted living facility
  • residential treatment center
  • group home
  • battered women’s shelter
  • or, be hospitalized or unable to go to the polling place due to incapacitating health reasons or a disability.
  • Your agent must be at least 18 years old, have a pre-existing relationship with you and cannot be a candidate. An individual cannot be an agent of more than three voters in an election.

Give your agent a completed absentee ballot application and a request for agent delivery of absentee ballot form. Have your agent take both forms to the local election office to receive your ballot.

Your agent can pick up your ballot starting seven days before the election until 2 p.m. on Election Day. Your agent or someone else you designate must return your ballot by 3 p.m. on Election Day. You can also return your ballot by mail. Election officials must receive your ballot on or before Election Day.

Office Of The Minnesota Secretary Of State, Steve Simon

http://www.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting/other-ways-to-vote/vote-early-in-person/

Divided We Fall

The political expedient of offering a free lunch leads government authorities to make commitments they cannot support in the long term without assessments and tax increases–both political suicide. The get hit in their campaign funds and hit at the polls. The American wealthiest and their corporate empires assume a 19th century uber-privilege, owing nothing to the societies that fed their greed and freely buying the politicians to insure that. American voters meanwhile have been convinced that they deserve to have the amenities but not pay for them.

Then, when the bills come in, the authorities, beholden to their wealthy benefactors, look for excuses and scapegoats rather than biting the bullet, correcting tax law, and convincing tax-payers to pay up or give up the things they’ve come to expect. So the result is that they go after two of their own big expenses–the public workers, who make our society civilized, and the neediest, who don’t pay much tax and often don’t vote. Breaking the life-long promise of a pension to public employees, cutting funding to schools, and reducing the public work force, government chews off its own leg to free itself from the trap of its own design. Cutting off the needy is simply barbaric.

America has been effectively marketed a dream that everyone deserves a life that is fun and feels good. Watch almost any TV ad. Americans are discouraged from thinking about how that could be true when we know that life includes effort and pain. Only when enough of us look around and think will we begin to reverse the seemingly inexorable trend toward a country of 350,000,000 individuals, each at the center of her or his own universe, and start to reestablish America as a united society, who share common needs despite individual differences. If “divided we fall” has not been apparent before, certainly watching the human pieces of our civil society fall away over the years should alert us to the future we will leave our children and grandchildren.

Every thoughtful person must stand up, speak out, help out and vote.