Pension researchers at the Pew Charitable Trusts are coming under attack from public pension advocates for their role in promoting public pension reforms around the country through their partnership with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation in Houston.
A report issued Thursday by the Institute for America's Future, a progressive group backed by labor unions and others, takes aim at activists who “are manufacturing the perception of a public pension crisis.”
The Pew-Arnold partnership is “really quite amazing conservative activism on the part of Pew,” said Roger Hickey, institute co-director, in a news conference call. “There is a modus operandi here that focuses not on what the workers want, but a ginned-up crisis and a set of solutions that have not worked out well.”
The institute and other pension advocacy groups worry that recent consulting by Pew and the $726 million Arnold Foundation in Kentucky and six other states presents a politicized agenda aimed at reducing defined benefit pensions for public workers that has benefited from the Arnold Foundation's deep pockets and Pew's access to legislators through its longstanding reputation.
Pew officials, who dispute some of the pension contribution and shortfall calculations made in the report, say their impartiality has not changed.
“Our project helps policymakers by offering technical assistance to policymakers looking to make data-driven reforms, but ultimately the direction these states and cities take will be chosen by local leaders and stakeholders,” Pew said in a statement. “It's unsurprising that some stakeholders want to solve the pension shortfall only with tax increases. Others want to solve it only with spending cuts. We know there is no one-size-fits-all solution.”
Josh McGee, vice president of the Arnold Foundation's public accountability project, denies that the foundation advocates killing pensions.
“Public employees are being shortchanged by systems that allow politicians to promise benefits without fully funding them,” Mr. McGee said in an e-mailed statement. “While the (IAF report) is filled with errors, there are areas of common ground. We look forward to working with those who are committed to protecting workers and developing systems that are affordable, sustainable and secure.”