Today, TriMet issued another press release threatening dire service cuts far into the future. Once again, the agency placed the blame for its projected financial woes on the healthcare and pension costs of its frontline workforce. According to the Amalgamated Transit Union, the TriMet workers’ representative, TriMet’s numbers just aren’t adding up.
“I am a trustee of the pension fund, so I see the numbers,” says Bruce Hansen, the union’s president. He noted that the TriMet pension trust (not to be confused with the more costly state system, PERS) currently has over $58 million on deposit. Last year, the fund grew by three-quarters of a million dollars and had a total payout to retirees of just over $6 million. “At that rate,” Hansen stated, “there are enough funds in the trust to pay pensions for nearly ten years, even if no other contributions were made.”
“Of course,” Hansen continued, “TriMet could choose to create a pension crisis by refusing to contribute anything at all to the pension fund. To do so, however, would be an extraordinary action to take, considering they are paying pensions as high as $16,000 a month to the former general manager and $11,000 a month to the former general counsel.”
Hansen also questions TriMet’s ongoing claim that its workforce has “among the richest health plans in the industry. Right now, TriMet employees are paying a higher percentage for their health care than most public employees.” He says that the disputed arbitration award gave management the right to recoup past years’ expenditures for health care. “But,” says Hansen, “you have to wonder at TriMet’s budgeting process. They should have budgeted for health insurance in those prior years. In effect, any money from the arbitration award would be a windfall for the agency, not something to fix a prior budgeting mistake.”The real “boogyman” that should concern the public, says Hansen, is the steady diversion of operations funds into capital projects. “TriMet keeps expanding the system, and then it complains when labor costs go up. Who do they think is keeping all that new equipment running?” he asks. Hansen suggests that TriMet’s latest service cut threat should spur a full public inquiry of just how taxpayer money is being managed at TriMet.