I’ve attended two retirement parties in recent months. Both of my friends were all of 50 years old. They retired with 90 percent of their final annual pay and a generous health-care package. They were public employees.
I’m turning 50 later this year, and my retirement is nowhere in sight. In fact, because of the economy, I’ve recently had to use some of the money I’d socked away for my golden years just to pay some bills.
I’m mad as hell, and I’m going to have to take it some more. No one seems to want to stop the insanity of handing out unsustainable public pensions in California; instead, we taxpayers just sink deeper into debt.
Californians have totaled at least $237 billion in debt in funding retired public workers, though the actual figure may be north of a half-trillion dollars. We’ve racked up that debt in little more than a decade, when the state Legislature passed a law that allowed California Highway Patrol officers to retire at age 50 with 90 percent of their pay. The formula was soon adopted by other public employee unions.
If not radically reformed, California’s public pension scam will come to a grinding halt. Taxpayers simply can’t fund two sets of public employees (the lower-paid group and the higher-paid set of retirees).
So far, the politicians – and the public unions that intimidate them – have done little to fix the pending disaster. There’s a financial tsunami off shore that everyone can see, but our politicians – and the public – keep splashing on the sunscreen and sipping on Coronas.
Here’s a typical response from a union official (bold emphasis is mine):
“We’re all for anything that shores up the retirement system and makes sure we can guarantee the promises we made to employees,” said Terry Brennand, senior government relations advocate for the California State Council of Service Employees International Union, in an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News.
Guarantees in business aren’t what they used to be. Promises should be kept to any employee, but reality happens. Many in the private sector have been laid off, had their health coverage reduced, had their employer stop making contributions to their 401(k) or had their retirement funds stolen.
In O.C., Supervisor John Moorlach – a CPA who predicted the county’s bankruptcy – has led the effort to dig out of the pension hole, taking more than $1 billion from the county’s $1.4 billion unfunded liability.
The state gubernatorial candidates promise pension reform, with the Republicans offering to raise the retirement age and switch to a 401(k) plan. These are common-sense solutions, but common sense has so far been a stranger to this issue.
I have other friends my age who went into public service, and I’ll be attending more retirement parties. They won the career lottery and will have roughly four decades to take up new hobbies, travel, start a new career, visit children and grandchildren, sit on the beach, read, write or volunteer.
The rest of us do not have those options. We will keep working. And we will keep accumulating billions – and maybe trillions – in state debt caused by the public retirement system until our collective back breaks under the weight.
Until then, have a Corona on me.