Challenges Transparent California Facts
January 30, 2020
In a recent previous column (11.07-13. 2019) Neil Rubenstein claimed that the “Transparent California data base SAID” that there was a “nearly 900% increase in CalPERS [pension] benefits….” I have researched this claim closely. It is untrue.
Mr. Rubenstein continues to get the facts wrong in his continuing animus about the mostly modest pensions of hard-working public employees. First, understand that Transparent California, which he cites as his source, is indeed a database, and I believe it to be a reliable one. It aggregates already publicly available salary, benefits, and public pension costs. As such, like any other spreadsheet of data, it does not SAY anything, and the misinformation conveyed in Mr. Rubenstein’s column is nowhere in the Transparent California database. The misleading claim Mr. Rubenstein cites is from an accompanying but separate blog—you might call it Transparent California’s angry cousin.
You see, Transparent California is a tool of the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), a far right so-called “think tank” which bitterly opposes defined benefit pension plans and delivers anger and scorn at hard-working public employees and their unions. Its implicit goal is universal privatization of government services and programs. NPRI is known to be funded by the billionaire class, including David and Charles Koch. It receives massive support from Donors Capital Fund that channels money to it from the ultra rich. This fund states that it “promotes private initiative rather than government programs,” so Mr. Rubenstein’s quote has carried the bias of its source into his column.
In 1986 – ’87 CalPERS retirees received approximately $7,400 annually as their pension benefit. The annual pension benefit for all retirees covered by CalPERS was $37,000 in 2018 – ’19. This reflects 80% growth and is consistent with compounding of interest, investment gains, salary growth, and inflationary trends over a twenty year span. Additionally, the data Rubenstein cites is not for an increase in benefits but seems to refer to an increase in accrued liabilities from 1987 – 2016.
A concomitant advantage to a healthy CalPERS pension system is that most of its pensioners spend their benefit money in the California economy. If the NPRI wish were to come to pass and the CalPERS system were privatized, its pensioners and the money they spend in our state would be completely at the mercy of Wall Street and therefore likely to disappear for long periods of down cycles. Not wise. Just recall the 1987 market crash, the dot com declines at the turn of the century, the effects of 9/11, or the recent 2008-’09 global economic crisis, and the Great Recession here.
In 2012 and going forward, CalPERS retirees returned $10.85 in economic activity in California for each taxpayer’s $1.00. That is an extremely robust return for taxpayer investment. Pensioners spend their earned CalPERS benefits in the state and have generated over $30 billion in economic activity and created nearly 114,000 jobs. The diversified CalPERS investment portfolio supports over one and a half million jobs in the US. (These figures can be verified in “CalPERS Economic Impacts Report,” June 2012).
I agree with Mr. Rubenstein, transparency is important.
Bruce Lebedoff Anders