Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pension Reform Discussion

Tonight's presentation on pension reform drew a crowd of 30. JoAnne Golden of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association presented after an introduction by Joe Sheffo, President of the Encinitas Taxpayers Association. The crowd was generally age 30s to 60s, with better representation at the upper end of that spectrum. Judging by the questions, they were well-informed and universally understood the problem and supported reform. Even some older hippie-looking types asked some quite sophisticated questions about the unrealistically rosy assumptions built into the pension model. If only we could pick five of these folks at random to replace the city council.

SDCTA has lots of resources and papers on their web site, but I'll sum up the presentation here. Encinitas city employees can retire at 55 and get paid essentially a full salary for as long as they live. That is completely out of line with private-sector, real-world benefits. You'd have to build a 401(k) in the millions by the time you're 55 to match that kind of cheese. And that's before we even get into paying for their health care for life. These massive benefits are a huge and growing drain on city resources.

Our city council doesn't understand this at all. Pension reform is not even on their radar screen. In fact, the last time they addressed pensions, they voted 4-1 to increase benefits 35%! Three [Four] of our current council members were on that council, with Maggie Houlihan and Dan Dalager [and Jerome Stocks] voting for the huge increase and only Bond being the voice of reason against.

JoAnne Golden tells it like it is under the watchful gaze of Jar-Jar Binks.

Toward the end, someone asked what citizens could do to help bring about reform. Golden's answer was to keep up the pressure on your city council members. Make sure they know that the pension time bomb is important to voters.

SDCTA's modest reform proposals are here. A couple people in the audience asked about advocating for defined contribution plans, but SDCTA has chosen a pragmatic, incrementalist approach of advocating modest reductions within the current system. Any reforms would apply only to new hires, as once Dalager and Houlihan [and Stocks] gave current employees those gold-plated pensions, they became protected by law and can never be taken back without the city filing for bankruptcy.

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