Protesters criticize Rick Perry's Social Security proposal outside pricey St. Pete Beach fundraiser

10/26/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Top GOP contenders are trying to get attention from Republican voters in the Sunshine State ahead the primary. And though he may have recently slid drastically in the pools, Texas governor Rick Perry is no different. Perry was in St. Pete Beach for a thousand-dollar-a-plate fundraiser, and so were a few protesters.

Texas governor Rick Perry now is polling at just six percent of the GOP vote. While cable news commentators debate whether he’s still relevant, critics of his platform are seizing on his candidacy to highlight what they say is bad policy. Ginny Lightheizer of Bradenton was among a handful of protesters outside the Tradewinds Resort, where the Perry fundraiser was held.

“The idea that governor Perry is putting out there that it’s a pansy scheme is 100% incorrect.”

Lightheizer is a former employee of the Social Security Administration. She said she has a big problem with the changes Perry is proposing for key programs like Social Security. These include letting state and local governments opt out of the program and letting younger workers put retirement money into personal savings. Those pushing for these changes say the program will run out of money in a few decades if nothing is done. Lightheizer said she’s not buying it.

“I think that they’re probably the most successful federal governments programs we have. They’ve met every obligation and every commitment since the 1930s. They’re strong for another 20 or 30 years before they have started having trouble.”

She said if the program keeps running as-is, Social Security won’t run dry. It won’t give back a hundred percent of what gets put in, she said, but it won’t deprive them of the ability to feed themselves, either. Lightheizer said since the workforce has shrunken, the system will eventually have to pay out less, or have to change some.

“If we’re going to continue to meet those obligations we have to tweak something. Otherwise, we can meet 78% of our obligations but never does it go to 0%. As long as there are people out there working, they’ll continue to pay checks.”

She said drastic changes like the ones Perry is proposing won’t be necessary.

“If they made a change, then they’d be able to meet more of the obligation. If they don’t and this country says, you know what, meeting 78% of the obligation is okay. So if you and all the other workers out there say you know what, its okay if I only get 78% of that, I’d rather have 78% of it when I retire then pay more taxes now or have some reduction in benefits from my parents or grandparents, then that’s okay. It doesn’t mean the program’s going away, it’s not going away and it is not a pansy scheme.”

Among more controversial aspects of Perry’s proposals is investing Social Security funds in the stock market, something for which the George W. Bush administration had pushed several years ago. Gerald Buchart, former director of the City of St. Petersburg's office on aging, said that would be a good way for the system to lose money.

“This whole idea of privatization, they tried that 4 or 5 years ago, all the economic consoles and committees show that it just gets more expensive when you start paying another level, the stock market. That draws money away from what goes in. So that’s been shown and why he’s bringing it back is beyond me.”

The demonstrators were part of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Their protest took place on the heels of Perry’s announcement of his flat tax proposal, and his distancing himself from the birther movement.

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