There’s an old saying that goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Conversely, that same axiom implies the opposite. If it is broke, it has to be fixed. When it comes to pensions, we have a serious problem and the old guaranteed compensation-for-life model is broken.
The issue we are facing currently, which is the issue we have continued to face for years now, is the unsustainability of the pension system. On the state level, Gov. Jerry Brown is attempting to get unwieldy pension costs and health care liabilities under control for future retirees who work for the state and the University of California system. The unfunded total: $220 billion. In 30 years, it is estimated that it will go up to $300 billion.
In Ventura County, while current pensions city- and countywide have been a bit more manageable, relatively speaking, the fact that nearly one in five city and county government employees (2,579 of 14,443, as reported earlier this week) made more than $100,000 annually in 2014 — combining regular pay with overtime, incentive pay, uniform allowances and leave cash-outs — is putting taxpayers on a rather arduous hook at such high retirement pay indefinitely. Police and fire department employees are among the biggest culprits of high overtime costs. While some government officials may argue that paying overtime costs less than new hires for safety, fire or any other government position, in the private sector, high overtime costs is typically the product of the inability of management to get work done regular hours. It seems like overtime costs are just the status quo in the public sector.
Decades ago, pensions and good health care insurance used to be the benefits of average paying jobs working for the government. Now, by all appearances, it’s the best of both worlds for too many, plus government workers have the benefit of unions — though funded by the employees — lobbying for them while the private sector employees have little to no representation and, as taxpayers, also have to bear the brunt of covering those public sector costs indefinitely.
While we are not glad that private sector unions have lost so much power, we are equally not glad that public sector unions have so much negotiating power. By guaranteeing lifelong peak earning compensation or close to it, government-union contracts could hurt the availability of services by funding liabilities ahead of salaries of current employees and a proper staff.
The fact of the matter is there needs to be an increase in what public sector employees pay into their share of their retirement funds without employees automatically expecting higher compensation. There needs to be more accountability. It’s not only our future, but those liabilities may cost our children the services we find vital to our quality of life. Come election time, we hope to see our local legislators get serious about finding the proper balance rather than catering to their campaign contributors.