Oct. 20, 2003 – Territorial Judge Ive Swan wonders how the fate of his fiscal retirement future wound up in the hands of the Legislature. And on Saturday he encouraged voters to do something about a situation he finds unacceptable.
Speaking extemporaneously at a Saturday meeting of the Advocates for the Preservation of the Retirement System, held at the Charlotte Amalie High School auditorium, Swan said he had gone there because he had thought it was a meeting of the Government Employees Retirement System board. (See "First GERS reform bill in 44 years surfaces".)
Swan was well versed in his subject. "Why, " he asked, "does the government control the GERS?"
Swan said the retirement system was created to governed by a board of trustees, not the Legislature. "Nowhere in law can I find anything that says the Legislature should control the retirement system," he said. "We just happen to be employees who contribute to the system, just like employers contribute something."
The law establishing the GERS — Title 3, Section 701(c)(b) of the V.I. Code — reads in part: "The system created under this chapter shall have the powers, and privileges of a corporation, subject, as provided herein, to a board of trustees. It shall be known and designated as the Employees Retirement System of the Government of the Virgin Islands, and by such name all business shall be transacted, all of its money shall be invested, and all its cash and securities and other properties shall be held."
Swan said the GERS board should challenge in court the "ludicrous, asinine and ridiculous" involvement of the Legislature in GERS matters. "Why is control left up to the Legislature when you have a board?" he asked. "Something is fundamentally wrong."
The way to influence elected government officials is through numbers, he said. "Write your senators, and ask them how they have voted" on GERS issues, he urged. "Research their votes."
The 24th Legislature passed what became Act 6571, which increased to three years from a previous 75 days the period of time a retired government employee who is rehired can continue to collect retirement benefits while also drawing a salary. In essence, the bill allows a retired employee to "double dip" for as much as three years. Although Swan did not mention this legislation, it is one measure which has created opposition among some government employees. (See the Op-ed commentary "Generation Now! Position Statement on Act 6571".)
Swan said $517 is taken from his check each payday to got toward his retirement package. "The board should do due diligence on this issue," he said, "so by the time I retire, there will be something left for me and others."
He said he doubts that voters understand the situation. "Leaflets should be distributed in clear and concise language," he said. "It's a matter of time" before the system goes broke, "unless drastic action is taken."
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