Demonstrators criticize Rick Perry's stance on Social Security outside heavily-guarded Saint Pete Beach fundraiser

As instructed, they walked single-file back and forth along the sidewalk. They were protesting Texas Governor Rick Perry's stance on Social Security - that it's basically a Ponzi scheme doomed to run dry and that the money should really be invested in the stock market.

The protestors, most of them retired and representing the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, vehemently disagree.

Ginny Lightheizer of Bradenton is a former employee of the Social Security Administration.

"I believe in Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid," she said. "They're probably the most successful government programs we have. They've met every obligation they have, and every commitment since the 1930s."

Perry has proposed raising the retirement age, allowing state and local governments to opt out of the program in favor of their own plans, and letting younger workers steer money that would usually be collected in payroll taxes into private savings. He's said nothing would change for current recipients.

The current governor of Texas is among Republicans who appear to think Social Security will be bone-dry in the next few decades, leaving nothing for the millions of younger workers currently paying in. Lightheizer said the books tell a different story.

"People keep paying in. We still have reserves,' she said. "In fact, the reserves are the biggest they've ever been, because when they passed the 1980 amendments they pre-funded the Baby Boomers so that there would be a big bump in finances there when people started collecting those checks."

She said the notion that the fund will hit bottom is false.

"Never does it go to zero percent," she said. "Seventy percent is what the actuaries are saying now."

Lightheizer said that would be the number without any "tweaks" to the system. She added that while 70 percent is better than nothing, there are less drastic ways the feds can alter Social Security - without putting in the stock market - to get that number higher.

Gerald Buchart, former director of of the City of St. Petersburg's office on aging, said investing, in addition to being precarious, might actually be more expensive in the end.

"All the economic councils 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," he said.

The protesters demonstrated outside the morning fundraiser for a shorter time than the event's one-hour duration. They did not comment on Perry's other proposals, which include a 20 percent flat tax, or his recent treading on birther territory (which he rescinded today).

Recent polling shows Perry's numbers have gone down to six percent, leaving him in fifth place among GOP presidential contenders.

click to enlarge Noorm Bungard, volunteer leader with NCPSSM - Kate Bradshaw
Kate Bradshaw
Noorm Bungard, volunteer leader with NCPSSM

  • A critic of Rick Perry's stance on Social Security

Getting arrested in Tampa Bay has never been easier. First, you need to become a member of an alternative media outlet. Then, get yourself assigned to cover a protest outside an eye-poppingly high-priced fundraiser for a flailing GOP presidential contender; one that's got a line of men in various uniforms outside the front entrance. Try to buy batteries at the gift shop in the swank resort where said event is being held.

Chances are, you'll get a warning at first. A police officer will take down your information. The officer and security personnel will tell you that if you so much set foot on a blade of grass belonging to the swank resort, they'll haul you in for trespassing.

Chances are, as GOP contenders shower their affections on the I-4 corridor in the lead-up to Florida's Republican primary (and, of course, next August's Republican National Convention), opportunities for press and other interested parties to get arrested will abound.

The handful of protesters outside a large resort in St. Pete Beach clearly weren't interested in jail.


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