Paul Jacob

Could a mighty earthquake dump much of the California coast into the Pacific Ocean?

You tell me. But I have a more likely scenario: the state’s perilous public employee pension problems, surging like a tsunami, smashing into the state. Soon.

That would be a disaster.

State and local governments in the Golden State have underfunded their golden-parachute pension promises by a terrifying half a trillion dollars. Twenty thousand public employees now collect yearly pensions of $100,000 or more.

In Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, the problem was highlighted last fall when a retired sheriff, Robert Brooks, sued the county claiming he was owed an additional $75,000 a year. That would be on top of his already substantial $283,000 annual pension, which is a whopping $55,000 more than Brooks’ highest-ever salary.

Ventura County leads the state with the most retirees (24) taking home an annual pension of $200,000 or greater, and, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times, 84 percent of them make more now in retirement than they did when they were working. In 2011, the chief county executive retired from his measly $228,000 working-stiff salary to begin immediately and leisurely taking home a $272,000 retirement pension.

Nice work — er, rest — if you can get it.

In the last 15 years, pension costs as a percentage of the county’s overall budget have shot up an incredible 1,600 percent.

What can an outraged citizen do?

Take the initiative! Last Wednesday, a group of men and women in beautiful Ventura County brought officials more than 40,000 voter signatures, far in excess of the 26,000 voters required to mandate a vote on reform.

The people “made it clear they want a decisive say in their fiscal future,” said the co-chairs of the effort, David Grau and Dick Thomson, in a news release handed out when they and a group of volunteers wheeled in six big boxes of petitions.

The ballot initiative proposed by the Committee for Pension Fairness would create a 401k-style retirement plan for new county employees. An independent analysis of the measure says it will create enough savings to shore up the woefully underfunded pensions of current employees and retirees.

“People are so excited that finally somebody is going to do something about this problem,” said Jim McDermott with the Ventura County Taxpayers Association, a group supporting the reform initiative.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.