Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Who does Representative Vagnozzi represent?

I’ve attached a piece by Representative Aldo Vagnozzi (D-Farmington)that appears to have run throughout a number of Eccentric papers in and around Oakland County:

Eccentric: Teacher benefits should not be cut by Legislature (08/26/07)

In it, he attacks Representative Marty Knollenberg for suggesting that we look at responsible reforms to educator retirement and health benefits (I wrote about Knollenberg's article in this post on June 29, 2007). Vagnozzi uses silly and untrue phrases like “severely slash” that entirely mischaracterize Representative Knollenberg’s points. Vagnozzi uses analogies like “depression era wages”, and tries to suggest that any changes would prevent teachers from “enjoy(ing) a decent life after they leave the classroom.”

These outrageous comments are so exaggerated that it's hard to picture who would take them seriously.

Consider these thoughts as you read his article:

First, Vagnozzi’s attack on Representative Knollenberg fails to include any disclaimer that Vagnozzi received substantial contributions from teacher union PAC’s (Political Action Committees). Here is a link to his campaign committee:, which shows he received $5000 – the maximum allowed by law – from MEA PAC, which is the PAC for the state’s largest teachers union. He also received $1200 from the American Federation of Teachers, $250 from the Detroit Federation of Teachers, $375 from the Oakland Educators PAC, and hundreds from various MEA teachers.

With that type of backing, it’s no wonder that he quickly launches the tired old attack strategy that demonizes anyone that dares to suggest that we cannot offer a blank check to educators.

Second, it comes as no surprise that Vagnozzi believes the solution to our state’s woes is to provide unrestricted protection of benefits along with increased pay.

Yet he fails to expand on minor little details, like how he intends to pay for them.

In fact, he fails to explain how we can pay for the current system.

Somehow the words “tax increase” didn’t make it into the final cut of his editorial.

Third, Vagnozzi seems to operate under the delusion that the benefits offered by school districts are reasonable and normal. They aren’t.

They cost at least 25% more than benefits offered in the private sector. And the defined benefit retirement program – with medical coverage – began disappearing from the private sector in the 1980’s. They were discarded by the private sector because they are unaffordable and unsustainable. Our state recognized that years ago and switched plans for most of its employees.

Fourth, the record clearly contradicts the cheap shot Vagnozzi takes at Knollenberg. Vagnozzi suggests Knollenberg is hypocritical, citing the fact that Knollenberg himself is " covered by an excellent (state-funded) life-time health insurance, plus a good retirement plan..."

But in the very article attacked by Vagnozzi, Knollenberg says, "I have introduced similar legislation to reform another lucrative retirement system -- lifetime benefits for lawmakers. It is simply absurd for the taxpayers to fund lifetime benefits for myself and my colleagues after six short years in the Legislature"

And that's not the only time Knollenberg has been quoted as saying that. Here is another article that discusses Knollenberg's ideas on benefit reform for legislators.

Makes one wonder whether Vagnozzi even understands what he is reading -- or writing.

And finally, keep in mind that Vagnozzi is eligible for these very cushy benefits he is fighting to preserve.

There are many solutions that school boards – or the legislature – could explore that would reform benefits while still providing comprehensive and effective insurance to our valued educators. These are the same benefits that keep a majority of our citizens healthy, and are provided in a way that doesn’t dramatically impact their finances.

Changes would include shared insurance premiums, increased copays and increased deductibles. These types of changes are effective because they help turn insured employees into more effective consumers. They will give more thought when scheduling doctor visits. They will ask their doctors to explain the purpose of various tests and procedures. They will consider generic rather than brand name drugs.

The bottom line is that legislators like Vagnozzi are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Inflammatory rhetoric bent on preserving the status quo for his supporters will drive our state into bankruptcy. It's time for Vagnozzi to consider a realistic alternative.

Here is the article in case the link doesn't work:


Teacher benefits should not be cut by Legislature

Now comes State Rep. Marty Knollenberg with a proposal to balance the state budget on the backs of teachers and other school employees.

At a time when everyone agrees that educating our children is the most important challenge we face, Mr. Knollenberg, is proposing that we discourage good teachers from entering the profession.

He is suggesting that we take an axe to teacher retirement and health benefits so that teachers can no longer enjoy a decent life after they leave the classroom. His proposal reminds me of the Depression era, when teachers were paid in script, a form of today's food stamps.

Here is a legislator who earns nearly $80,000 a year and is covered by an excellent life-time health insurance, plus a good retirement plan, telling teachers, who often start at a salary of around $30,000 to tighten their belts and see their retirement and health care coverage devastated by action of the state Legislature.

I don't understand how anyone in public office can claim that we need good teachers while at the same time proposing that we severely slash their pension and health care benefits. Why would anyone enter the teaching profession under those circumstances? When you consider that teaching is becoming an increasingly difficult job, what incentive is there in entering the profession?

Consider that college tuitions have just gone up all over the state, leaving future graduates with a substantial debt in earning their teaching degree. Again, what incentive is there to enter the profession?

I would suggest that Mr. Knollenberg read the advice that Lee Iococca has in regard to teacher compensation. In his new book, Where Have All the Leaders Gone? he makes an impassioned plea on behalf of teachers.

He makes the statement that pay and benefits for teachers should be at the top of the list for professionals, not at the bottom, as he points out how important they are in helping to develop the leaders of the future.

Iococca is someone we should listen to, because of his vast and successful career in the business world. As the head of a major corporation, he has had the experience to know how teachers impact and what significant role they play in our society.

I urge Mr. Knollenberg to pick up the book, read and absorb what Iococca has to say about teachers and why they should be paid substantially more than they are getting now.

I also urge Mr. Knollenberg to look at what has happened to teacher health benefits in recent years. Through the process of collective bargaining, many teachers have taken a hit on their health coverage. Co-pays have gone up dramatically. Teacher retirees now face co-pays as has as $50 per prescription. Many teachers also contribute as much as $1,500 to $2,000 a year for their health insurance. Compare their benefits with legislators, who get full health coverage after six years of service without any co-pays.

I will oppose any attempt to drastically cut teacher retirement or health benefits. Let this issue be settled by the time-tested collective bargaining system. It has worked in the past. It will work in the future without interference by the state Legislature.

Aldo Vagnozzi, of Farmington Hills, is state representative for the 37th District, representing Farmington and Farmington Hills.

No comments: