The public-employee pension fight


Public employees are getting attacked on all fronts, and one of the major issues is pensions. Forum did a show on it this morning, and all the usual suspects were there arguing that the public is outraged, that pensions are out of control, that nobody in the private sector gets these kinds of deals and that high pensions are damaging the very social programs that progressives love. Jeff Adachi, SF's public defender, is making some of the same arguments in his pension-reform proposal.

Let me add a little perspective.

First of all, the majority of the public-sector workers who get pensions in CA don't get huge payouts -- the average pension, SEIU's Terry Brennand pointed out on the show, is a little over $2,000 a month. Teachers get a little more, but they don't get social security; they give up that federal benefit in exchange for pensions that pay maybe $3,000 a month.

There are serious problems with pensions -- and most of them involve two categories of workers: Management employees and public safety. Those $100K-plus pensions? Check em out. In San Francisco, anyway, and I'm sure it's the same in most of the state, the majority of them go to cops, firefighers and people in senior positions who manage to figure out how to bump their pay scales up in their final years.

The bigger cost may be retiree health care -- but that's a bit misleading, too. If we had a single-payer health care system, we wouldn't need to worry about all these retiree health costs busting state and local budgets. And if retired public employees weren't getting health care through a pension system, a lot of them would wind up in the public-health system anyway, through Medicare or Medi-Cal; we, the taxpayers, would be covering that cost anyway.

You want to save money on pensions? Quit giving the cops and prison guards everything they want.

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