January 9, 2013
In a letter to the editor in your 12/27/12 issue my friend and neighbor, Neil Rubenstein, states that Culver City taxpayers are “getting hosed” by two former public employees of the city who are now drawing six-figure pensions.
He calls upon the City Council to “get serious with pension reform’ and for Sacramento to forbid “pension spiking’ and to offer new employees 401K-type plans in place of defined benefit plans. However, he fails to mention four facts which militate against his conclusions.
--The pensions at issue are defined benefits of a state agency, CalPERS, which manages pensions for more than 1.6 million California retirees.
--The average monthly service retirement allowance for all CalPERS retirees is only $2,332 ($27,984/year) for an average of just over 20 years of public service in California.
--The retired city employees were a Captain of the CC Police Department and the Chief of the CC Fire Department.
--The California legislature has passed and Governor Brown has signed the Pension Reform Act of 2013.
What conclusions may we fairly draw from these three facts?
First, Mr. Rubenstein conflates the responsibilities of the state of California and the city of Culver City. CalPERS derives its legal authority from the state’s constitution and its Government Code and its Code of Regulations. The city can and should address the results of a recent CalPERS audit of its pension contracts with CalPERS, but as long as its various agencies contract with CalPERS it must follow the rules of CalPERS on contributions and benefits.
Second, in focusing on the size of only two pensions among what must be thousands of city retirees, Mr. Rubenstein does a great disservice to your readers who, in the absence of the facts, may infer that Culver City’s hard working employees are “hosing” the city. He should know that Senators Feinstein and boxer, to whose salaries he compares the two pensions of Culver City retirees, are millionaires who can easily afford the ‘financial sacrifices’ born by U.S. Senators.
Third, Mr. Rubenstein, in singling out public safety administrators, inadvertently weakens two of the agencies that make Culver City such a safe and cohesive community. It is worth noting, too, that administrators of large agencies such as a city fire or police department could earn higher salaries in private commerce. Reliable pensions can help but cannot make up for all the foregone earnings of these employees.
Fourth, the Public Employees Pension Reform Act already reforms previous practices such as spiking to which Mr. Rubenstein’s letter refers. As of 2013 retirement ages are raised, employee contribution rates are increased, and benefits reduced. His suggestion that public employees be forced into 410K-type retirement accounts was overwhelmingly rejected by the state’s electorate, which Governor Schwarzenegger put it to the ballot. Let’s not forget the popping financial bubbles and the crash of the 2008 stock market.
By approving measure Y, the voters of Culver City expressed their confidence in and appreciation of our wonderful city and the public employees who keep government efficient and residents safe. That point is decided and further letters to demean that decision are unnecessary.
Bruce Lebedoff Anders