More Red Meat For Pension Reformers
Sunday's Orange County Register was a treasure trove for those among us who believe drastic action must be taken to reform pensions in California.
GREENHUT ON BROWN'S PENSION PROPOSALS
Steven Greenhut, editor of www.calwatchdog.com, presents us with a commentary on the editorial pages titled "Odds against Jerry on pensions", HERE, that addresses Governor Jerry Brown's recently announced pension reform proposal. While I'm not going to try to steal his thunder - you can read his words at the link above - suffice it to say that he doesn't think Brown's proposals have chance of passing. This paragraph probably says it all, "But the plan probably is dead on arrival in the union-dominated Legislature. One might even argue that Brown is being cynical here - offering reasonably tough reform proposals that he knows will go nowhere. Then he can claim that he has tried to fix the problem but could not surmount the insurmountable." Enjoy your read.
OC WATCHDOG HITS US AGAIN
Then, OC Watchdog columnist Teri Sforza presents us with her most recent update on the "$100,000 Dollar Club" - those Californians currently raking in $100,000 or more in pensions. Her column, "$100,000 pension club explodes", HERE, is designed to startle you - it will. For example, she tells us that, between 2005 and 2011 the number of people receiving CalPERS pensions in California rose by 10,358 - a 563% increase!
And, although she provides us with the "top ten" - those folks receiving almost unbelievable pensions - Sforza also tells us that the average CalPERS pensioner receives $27,564 and that those in the "$100,000 Club", 12,199 pensioners, represent only 2.3% of the total 536,234 retirees. Still, the numbers rock you back.
MORE RED MEAT
So, I suspect Tuesday's Costa Mesa City Council closed session meeting - which will discuss labor negotiations - will likely include some of these numbers. And, if I were a betting guy, I suspect that they will be presented out of context.
PENSIONS ARE A PROBLEM
Let me be clear about one thing. I've heard all the public presentations by "pension experts" and I've heard the self-serving comments by members of the Costa Mesa City Council over the past couple years. I've had conversations and correspondence with members of the employee organizations on the subject and have heard scores of speakers address this issue before the City Council. There is NO doubt in my mind that our current pensions situation has our city in a tough spot. The word "unsustainable" keeps being tossed around and, much as I'd like to throw it right back in the faces of those who use it as an oratorical cudgel, I can't. I believe that something MUST be done to address the ongoing costs of our public employee pensions and that "something" is likely a two-tier system, combined with an increased participation in the costs by employees.
TWO-TIER NOT A QUICK FIX
However, those "pension experts" all agree that if we started tomorrow to offer a reduced pension benefit to new hires, it will not significantly affect our pension costs for years - probably decades. And thereby lies the problem we face. We have folks on our City Council - Jim Righeimer in particular - who campaigned as a "pension reformer", but finds himself in a boat without a paddle. He can't do anything about the pensions because the legally consummated contracts will be in effect until after his term of office expires - unless he gets recalled even sooner.
HEAVY-HANDEDNESS LED TO LAWSUIT
Righeimer's solution - ratified by the majority on the City Council - is to get rid of the employees who are earning those pensions and the "tool" being used is the now-infamous "outsourcing" scheme. And, in their haste to impose this draconian measure, the council forgot the rules, which has resulted in a law suit filed by employees to protect their rights. In response to this situation the City has hired an expensive mercenary - renowned labor lawyer Richard Kreisler, who has a track record of "dealing" with these kinds of issues - to bring some horsepower to the negotiations. He will bill the City $300 per hour - with no cap - to "deal" with this lawsuit.
PAST CORDIAL RELATIONSHIPS GONE
In years past the relationship between the management of the City and the employee bargaining units has been cordial, right up to and including the most recent difficult years 2008-2010, when the individual units stepped up when asked and tried to find ways to help the City over the dire financial problems it faced. Nobody held a gun to anyone's head - both parties agreed on the contracts and side letters signed at the time. Today, it is my impression that the bargaining units have so little trust in the folks currently running the City that they are very apprehensive about opening discussions at all. We KNOW the City Council doesn't trust the employees because CEO Tom Hatch told them that at a meeting earlier this year with members of the police department staff.
DON'T SEE ANY LIGHT YET
I'd like to find some light at the end of this very, very dark tunnel, but I'm not sure where it will come from. As long as this City Council perpetuates the adversarial relationship - until trust is restored on both sides - I just don't see how the employees can feel safe attempting to try to work things out. Maybe I'm wrong - I hope so. I hope wisdom and trust will prevail - and soon.