Greece vows pension, tax reform as strike looms

Greece unveiled sweeping proposals Tuesday to increase retirement ages, hike taxes on the Church and force street vendors to issue receipts, in a bid to appease EU partners and markets alarmed by the country’s debt crisis.

On the eve of a nationwide strike against civil service wage freezes, officials pledged to accelerate reforms meant to prick a ballooning deficit and cut debilitating borrowing costs.

Prime Minister George Papandreou told a cabinet meeting that the reforms “must go ahead now … [Read the full article]

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The state controller’s office found that California taxpayers are on the hook for more state government retiree health benefits than previously thought.

Controller John Chiang’s office issued a report Tuesday showing the growing divide between what the state owes retirees for health and dental benefits and what it has saved so far.

Chiang, a Democrat, suggested the state can reduce its obligation by switching from a pay-as-you-go formula to a full-funding approach, which involves setting aside more money now so the state can use investment income to pay for future benefits.

The report comes as the state is struggling to pay for core services such as public schools and universities.

“Even as we try to claw our way out of the recession and provide needed cash to the state’s coffers, we cannot ignore the promise that we made to pay health and dental benefits for current state employees,” Chiang said in a statement. [Read the full article]

A Utah lawmaker is defending a handful of bills he is sponsoring to restructure the state’s retirement system.

State Sen. Dan Liljenquist, a Republican from Bountiful, argued for the bills Tuesday, saying no current employees would be affected by the measures.

Taken as a whole the measures would essentially get rid of the state’s defined-benefit pension system for new employees.

Those hired after July 1, 2011, could put 8 percent of their salaries into a 401(k) program or opt into a defined-contribution benefit plan with reduced benefits.

Some public employee representatives think the reforms are too rash and could drive potential hires into the private sector.

The system covers 182,000 current and former public employees. The economic downturn created a $6.5 billion shortfall in the system.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. [Read the full article]

A strike by civil servants shut schools and grounded flights across Greece on Wednesday, as unions challenged cutbacks aimed at ending a government debt crisis that has shaken the entire European Union.

Air traffic controllers, customs and tax officials, hospital doctors and schoolteachers walked off the job for 24 hours to protest sweeping government spending cuts that will freeze salaries and new hiring, cut bonuses and stipends and increase the average retirement age by two years to 63.

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The strike left state hospitals working with emergency staff only and disrupted national rail travel, although urban mass transport was unaffected.

“It’s a war against workers and we will answer with war, with constant struggles until this policy is overturned,” said Christos Katsiotis, a representative of a communist-party affiliated labor union. [Read the full article]

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