This is not an isolated case. In Los Angeles County there are over 3,000 people receiving greater than $100,000 per year in pension benefits. In San Francisco, it was found that 25% of employees’ income spiked up over 10% in the final year of their work. The San Francisco grand jury found that amount cost the city $132 million.
Some would argue why not game the system? Let’s say you start working for the government when you are 30 years old and work for 25 years. Your final income with all the fancy calculations ends up at $120,000. That means you would receive $90,000 plus full health care benefits. You can either live on that very nice retirement or you are free to get another position. After all, being 55 years old, you are still in your prime earnings years. Where in the private sector are there comparative opportunities?
These kinds of retirement ages and benefits are why the estimated unfunded liability is soaring. California has estimated unfunded pension and health care liabilities ranging from $100 to $300 billion. The school systems operate under their separate pension program – CalSTRS. The Los Angeles Unified School System estimate for unfunded retiree benefits comes in at about $10 billion. That is one school system, be it the largest, in one state. Estimates show that the LAUSD will soon carve out 30% of its budget for combined retiree health and pension benefits.
California may be the worst example, but not the only example of deplorable financial planning by governmental entities. The original justification for rich benefits for public employees centered on lower salaries, but that no longer rings true. A recent analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Economics shows that federal employees receive compensation that is double the average of the private sector. Other studies have shown state and government employees to be receiving like levels of compensation.
The genesis of this pending disaster comes from the right of public employees to unionize. This was not always so. The first opportunity occurred in 1958 in New York City under Mayor Robert Wagner. President Kennedy instituted the right for federal employees to unionize in 1962. Since then the right for public employees to unionize has spread, but is not universal. States that have more restrictive laws have blocked public employee unions and thus have not suffered the consequences.
In states like California, the public employee unions fund huge political campaigns. To most observers, the unions have a stranglehold on the state legislature, Los Angeles and San Francisco city governments, and most if not all of the school districts in the state. When the employees control the employers, the results are uncontrollable obligations.
A recent report stated that children born today will live an average life span of 100 years. With public employees retiring at 50 or 55 years of age, it doesn’t take a deep thinker to extrapolate that these retirement benefit programs are unsustainable.
Private sector employees now receive less annual income than their public counterparts. Private sector employees will have to work well into their seventies to pay for these public sector employees’ retirement benefits which far exceed what the private sector offers. The public will, little by little, become aware of this upside-down arrangement. Heroes like Keith Richman are sacrificing to make the public aware of this coming debacle. Our elected officials need to heed his warnings.