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My name is Burton N. Behling. I am a Transportation Consultant

and a former Vice President of the Association of American Railroads.

I am appearing here on behalf of the railroads in regard to the

bills presently before you

H. R. 15922 and S. 3852, which I understand

is identical to H.R. 15927.

We support H. R. 15922, which provides for certain technical amend

ments developed by the Railroad Retirement Board to simplify its adminis

tration of the Railroad Retirement Act, with attendant economies and

efficiencies in the prompt handling of applications for annuities to certain

classes of beneficiaries. From our examination of these technical amend

ments we believe that they are necessary steps to reduce complexities and

avoid delays in the award of annuities and we are assured that they will not

result in significant increases or decreases in the amounts of benefits.

Turning now to S. 3852 (H. R. 15927), we strongly object to its

enactment.

That bill would, on a temporary basis extending to June 30,

1973, increase benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act by 20 percent,

the same percentage by which social security benefits were increased by

P. L. 92-336 (H. R. 15390), signed July 1, 1972. Superficially, it might

appear that, as a matter of course, all railroad retirement benefits should

now be increased the same percentage by which social security benefits

were recently increased to become effective September 1, 1972.

There are

compelling reasons, however, why such a conclusion should be rejected,

for the circumstances are vastly different.

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The Congress in 1970, in P. L. 91-377, responding to warnings that

the railroad retirement system was heading toward serious financial

difficulties, established a special Commission on Railroad Retirement to

conduct a study of that system and its financing. The Commission is about

to report its findings and recommendations for the consideration of the

parties directly involved and of the Congress.

Those findings and recom

mendations will confirm and, indeed, intensify the earlier concerns

regarding the financial condition and outlook of the railroad retirement

system.

In short, the Commission's report will show that the railroad

retirement system is heading rapidly toward a financial crisis and, even

without further increases in benefits, will probably be bankrupt in about

16 years unless necessary corrective steps are taken.

When allowance is made for more recent developments, that

conclusion is consistent with the testimony in 1970 of then Chairman Howard

Habermeyer of the Railroad Retirement Board that the railroad retirement

account would be exhausted in 20 to 25 years if the 15 percent benefit

increase enacted in 1970 were to become permanent. Pending the study and

report of its special Commission, the Congress made temporary that

increase and also the further 10 percent increase of 1971.

Now it is proposed in S. 3852 (H. R. 15927) to provide still another

large percentage increase in railroad retirement benefits.

A 20 percent

increase at this time would mean that the level of railroad retirement

benefits would have been increased by more than 50 percent compounded

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since 1969 (15 percent on January 1, 1970, 10 percent on January 1, 1971,

and 20 percent on September 1, 1972. )

These are very large increases when applied percentagewise to

railroad retirement benefit levels, which are much higher than social

security benefit levels. S. 3852 (H. R. 15927) proposes to make the further

20 percent increase temporary, with an expiration date of June 30, 1973.

However, as to this temporary feature, it must be observed that increases

once provided are, to say the least, difficult to withdraw or modify later on.

In these circumstances, we believe it would be most imprudent to enact the

bill at this time, before there has been opportunity to consider deliberately

the soon-to-be released report and findings of the Commission which

Congress saw the need to establish.

There is no urgency or crisis that would justify hasty action at this

time to further increase railroad retirement benefits by 20 percent. Existing

railroad retirement levels already compare favorably with those received

by most other groups under social security and other pension programs.

As the forthcoming report of the Commission on Railroad Retirement points

out

Only about half of the workers in private employment in
the United States are covered by private pension plans, and in
the retirement area railroad workers do better than most of
them. Analysis of pension plans indicate that in 1969 a 30-year
career railroader whose monthly earnings would correspond
to typical wages in blue collar industries covered by private
pension plans already had considerably better retirement
benefits than those in other private pension plans. Moreover,
since 1969 railroad benefits have been raised (temporarily)
26. 5%. Also, a study of income data shows that in 1970 the

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benefits of an unmarried retired railroad worker were higher
than the benefits received by 8 out of every 10 single retirees
from any type or combination of public and/or private plan
benefits in the country, including social security. The benefits
of a married retired railroader and his wife were higher than
benefits received by 9 out of any 10 retired couples from any
combination of similar benefits.

Some private pension plans in heavy industries, notably
the recently negotiated auto and steel industry agreements,
provide higher formula benefits (counting social security) than
railroad retirement. However, comparisons with such plans
are difficult because railroad retirement has other attractive
features 10-year vesting, full portability within the industry,
no requirement regarding continuous service, spouse benefits,
occupational disability benefits, a liberal work rule, and a
110% OASDI minimum guaranty to survivors and to the worker.

Moreover, increases in benefits should not be made without adequate

provision for their financing. This has not been done with respect to either

the current proposal in S. 3852 or the temporary increases in railroad

retirement benefits provided in 1970 and 1971. If all of these increases

were to become permanent, the resulting actuarial deficit without any

further changes in the future would be nearly $400 million a year.

Those increases, especially if they were to become permanent in

whole or in part, will require substantial increases in taxes on employers

and employees to support them, for otherwise the financial solvency of

the railroad retirement system would be further impaired.

Taxes for support of the railroad retirement program already

impose very heavy burdens on both the industry and its employees. Further

substantial increases in taxes necessary to support ever-rising levels of

benefits could take them beyond endurance by both sides

employers and

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employees. It is axiomatic that a financially sound railroad retirement

system requires benefit levels and tax support to be considered side by

side and with due regard for long-term rather than merely short-term

consequences.

We urge you to take into account the very limited ability of the

railroad industry to assume added cost burdens in support of the railroad

retirement system, which already is in serious financial trouble.

This

Committee and the Congress are well aware, I am sure, of the deep-seated

financial problems of the railroad industry and there is no need for me to

recite them at length here.

But let me point out by way of summary that,

whereas in 1955 net income from operations of all Class I line-haul

railroads amounted to $1. 1 billion and in 1966 to $1. 0 billion, last year

(1971) operating earnings were only $0.7 billion. Furthermore, this net

operating income is before interest charges which in 1971 amounted to over

$0.5 billion.

At this time, six major railroad companies

almost one

fifth of the industry in terms of revenues -- are in reorganization

proceedings under the Bankruptcy Act, and another dozen which failed to

earn their fixed charges in 1971 are in perilous financial condition.

For all of these reasons, the railroad industry strongly recommends

against enactment of the 20 percent increase in railroad retirement benefits

as provided in S. 3852 (H. R. 15927).

In taking this position we are not

unmindful that railroad people along with others are feeling the effects of

inflationary increases in their cost of living. But such considerations do

not warrant a general 20 percent increase in railroad retirement benefit

levels at this time.

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