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CLINTON HAS REVIVED PENSION TAX AND PUT IT IN DIFFERENT WRAPPER

President Clinton's administration is maneuvering again to tax middle-class pensions. Indeed, some state employee and union pension funds already are paying the pension tax.

When Clinton became president, he installed Alicia Munnell as assistant secretary of Treasury for economic policy. Munnell devised a plan to tax every American's pension plan. Her plan called for making Americans report as taxable income the contributions that they and their employers make to these plans, along with the earnings on the pension investments. To make up for not taxing pensions in the past, she wanted to confiscate 15 percent of all pension fund assets.The Munnell Plan would have drastically shriveled everyone's pension, making retirement more difficult for most Americans. But the plan never made it off Munnell's drawing board.

Now Clinton has revived the pension tax and put it in a different wrapper. He plans to subvert the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) with government regulations that encourage - read, bully - pension fund managers to direct pension fund investments into Economically Targeted Investments (ETIs).

ETIs are "socially useful" public programs that have "collateral benefits" over and above the private welfare of the pensioner. Such "socially useful" investments will be defined by the secretary of housing and urban development (HUD) and the secretary of labor.

A "socially useful" investment defined by public officials usually is, of course, a politically useful investment such as public housing. The administration hopes to have at least 10 percent of our pension funds invested in these "socially useful" projects.

As is obvious from the decrepit state of public housing, any money going into public housing will be lost.

The revisions in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act were unveiled the same week that Superior Court Judge Steffen Graae ordered the mayor of Washington, D.C., to surrender control of the city's public housing to an outside receiver. The judge said that the city was incapable of salvaging its public housing and that he would keep it in receivership for as long as it takes to create "a competent and professional institution."

The same fate has befallen public housing in Kansas City, Boston and other cities.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., supports Clinton's plan to encourage such investments, claiming that pension investments in "socially useful" public programs will earn returns competitive with investments in profitmaking private companies.

This claim is ridiculous on its face. If it were true, the Clinton administration would not have to devise a scheme to encourage pension-fund managers to divert the funds entrusted to them to political uses.

Moreover, if it were true, the Kansas Public Employees' Retirement System would not have had to write off $200 million in failed ETI "investments."

The Clinton administration's plan is far-advanced. First, the politicians divert the pension funds of government employees to political purposes. Once this becomes standard practice, private pension funds can be pressured to follow suit.