Well, we suspected as much, but now we know — and it's worse than we thought. On Nov. 21, The Bee published a list of the 50 (yes, fifty) former county employees who are being paid pension benefits of at least $100,000 per year. In order to do this, The Bee had to fight, and win, a court battle with the Stanislaus County Employees' Retirement Association over release of the names and numbers, even though taxpayers' money is involved.
Kudos to this newspaper, and it's apparent why StanCERA resisted so strongly; this is the sort of information likely to produce howls of outrage — if we still have the capacity, that is.
Allow me to stoke the fire a bit by suggesting (to The Bee) the following:
Drop the threshold point to $75,000 per year and reprint the whole list.
Never miss a local story.
Add a column that shows each employee's base salary for the last year worked. This will identify those who are making more in retirement than they ever did on the job and will let us know who really gamed the system by "spiking" their earnings just prior to retiring.
Identify any current or retired county officials who had any input into the labor negotiations that led to this practice of spiking.
Let's not mince words. It strains credulity to suggest that anyone senior and (presumably) smart enough to be negotiating contracts would not recognize the long-term pension gains to be realized by artificially inflating one's earnings during the final year of employment. Somebody had to know.
Probably quite a few somebodies.
There isn't much to be done about retirees; they're laughing all the way to the bank, unless (until?) the county goes bankrupt. As for current county folk, it seems to be conventional wisdom that these incredibly "generous" (if not fiscally irresponsible) pension arrangements are untouchable, immutable, chiseled in granite.
Are we certain of this? In times of fiscal duress, is it not possible to put elements of a current retirement calculation on the negotiating table? It's been suggested that, for future county hires, pension benefits should be calculated on the average base salary during the last three years of the employee's service.
Fine, something like that will probably happen. Is there any reason it shouldn't be at least explored for current employees? It'll be argued that this could wreak hardship on county employees at the lower end of the food chain — say, a longtime hourly worker, approaching retirement, whose post- employment calculations would be shattered by such a change.
In another context (automatic cost-of-living adjustments, a different, though not unrelated, subject), Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers' Association suggests a tiered system, distinguishing between highly compensated retirees and others.
In terms of spiking, could it not be disallowed for those whose base pension benefit will exceed a certain amount — say $50,000 per year, just to throw a figure out there — but be retained for other current employees?
One thing this should do is end the chorus of "Well, we just have to be competitive with both other municipalities as well as the private sector." Guess what: Those "other municipalities" are in the same financial doo-doo as we are, and they ain't hiring.
And as for that "private sector" straw man, if you can find an outfit with a pension setup like our county's, you'd be advised to avoid it — because it likely won't be around a year from now.
And if it turns out there's nothing to be done? Well, there is a practice employed by certain religious communities to deal with pariahs. It's called "shunning," and perhaps it ought to be considered.
In any event, to Mick Krausnick (ex-county counsel, a pension of $241,440 per year), Les Weidman (ex-sheriff, $202,288), Reagan Wilson (ex-county CEO, $169,673), and your 47 brethren in the six-figure club ... you're welcome.
Merry freaking Christmas.
Flint is a Modesto resident. Write him at email@example.com.