U-T San Diego: Reforms will curb pension abuses
Californians by the millions appear to have finally figured out that public employee union power has translated into extremely generous — and ultimately unsustainable — benefits for government workers. But an Associated Press investigation published this week points to another key part of the government compensation problem that isn't widely understood: High-level government administrators often stand to personally gain the most from policies billed as being about rank-and-file workers.
The AP story detailed how a 2000 law that was approved by the state Legislature as a way to attract and retain teachers at a time when there was a teacher shortage ended up turning into a vehicle for huge payouts to retiring school executives. The law allowed retiring educators to get a lump-sum payment in return for having their regular monthly pension checks reduced.
But from 2002 to 2010, AP found that about 180 retiring educators making $100,000 or more in annual pensions took home lump-sum payments averaging $147,000. These educators were typically high-ranking executives who joined the education establishment in pushing for the lump-sum option.
Instead of questioning CalPERS' preposterous free-lunch theory, city managers and county administrators up and down California sought much more generous pension formulas for their workforces. It is not cynical to note that they did so in full knowledge that they would disproportionately benefit from the giveaway, given that they were usually the highest-paid members of their workforce.
The reform measure approved by the Legislature last week will curb some of these pension abuses, but many of the changes won't start helping California taxpayers for decades. In the meantime, these taxpayers will continue to be besieged. But the culprits won't just be union-allied elected officials or union-influenced state agencies.
The list also includes all the city managers, county administrators and special-district executives who were supposed to protect taxpayers by offering smart management guided by sound financial principles. Instead, they joined CalPERS in pretending there was no downside to giving public employees huge retroactive pension increases — and are now the biggest beneficiaries of this policy fiasco.