Dana Parsons dives into the debate on Deputy Sheriff pensions in his column today. I find his discussion to be far more balanced than the biased reports and commentaries in the OCRegister. But, I figure there may be some differing opinions out there.
I wish I were more resolute for one side or the other. I can’t be. Call it the Curse of the Libra.Ã‚Â That curse compels me to be fair, and I’d have a hard time reneging on a collective bargaining agreement. As Carre argues, what comes out in the end is a product of give-and-take. Nobody forced the county to agree.
For my part I see Supervisor Moorlch simply grandstanding at taxpayer expense.Ã‚Â He has helped design the paper tiger of massive unfunded liabilities by deliberatly manipulating, with the help of the majority on the Orange Couty Employees Retirement System Board, the assumed rate of investment returns anticipated in the forcast of future pension liabilities.Ã‚Â
Moorlach’s Folly uses these inflated calculations to strike fear into the hearts of County taxpayers that the billÃ‚Â is due today and that there is no plan to pay the real liability down.Ã‚Â He has been trying to switch new county workers to a 401K type retirement plan which would only serve to bankrupt the current system and cost the taxpayers even more money than if he simply left things alone.
But enough about Moorlach and his follies, Here is Dana Parsons’ column.
Is a deal a deal, even if it’s a bad one?
A deal is a deal, the deputies say, but what if that deal puts us on the road to bankruptcy?
Dana Parsons Los Angeles TImes
August 16, 2007
Mike Carre put 28 years into law enforcement, first as a cop and then as a district attorney’s office investigator, trying to put away the bad guys. Now he’s hoping the public doesn’t see him as one.
On that wishful note, into the thicket of Orange County pensions we go.
Fear not, you’ll get no actuarial analysis from me on the county’s intentions to preempt what county supervisors believe is a fiscal disaster waiting to happen — future pension obligations from a 2001 union agreement with sheriff’s deputies.
The supes say the agreement gave away the store and will burden taxpayers because the prospective payouts aren’t sufficiently funded, as state law requires. The deputies say a deal is a deal and aren’t convinced any law has been violated.
Here’s what I wonder: At a time when people see companies paring pensions right and left and may well have felt the sting themselves, will they be sympathetic toward the deputies’ plight? And would the public’s traditional support for law enforcement be trumped by a sense that deputies are getting more than we can afford?
So far so good, says Carre, an official with the deputies’ union.
Even after noting that not everyone supports law enforcement, Carre says his anecdotal evidence suggests that average people don’t think it’s fair to renege on a deal. And neither side disputes that the agreement was part of the normal collective bargaining that goes on between the county and its employees. The 2001 pension sweetener — which made it extremely sweet to retire at 50 — applies both to deputies and to DA investigators.
Carre says it’s a matter of telling people five years ago that their pensions would be X, and telling them now it will be X minus something.
“Obviously, people plan their lives when they get older,” Carre says, “and now all of a sudden someone is saying — based on a legal theory that we haven’t seen any court say is valid yet — that they’re potentially going to lose a third of their pension.”
Carre says people outside law enforcement with whom he’s discussed the situation have sided with him. “They say, ‘If this was part of bargaining and you agreed and they agreed, how in the world can they go back on their agreement?’ And I don’t have an answer for that.”
I’m afraid the answer goes something like this: “Sorry, pal, but people are getting blindsided by pensions cutbacks all over the country. We appreciate what you’ve done for us, but I can’t shed any tears for you.”
That’s the last thing Carre wants to hear, and I don’t know if it’s reflective of widespread sentiment.
At least one man thinks it might. Jack Dean is a Fullerton businessman and self-acknowledged advocate of pension reform in the public sector. He edits a website that is a repository for pension stories around the country and supports the Orange County supervisors on this one. “The unions here are trying to distract people by saying the problem is not pensions, it’s healthcare,” Dean says. “Well, it’s both. Healthcare is the big one, but pensions still have been increasing dramatically.”
Like Carre, Dean talks with people, too. Guess what? His assessment is that people would support law enforcement “were they not made aware of the exorbitant amounts of money they’ve been able to extract, compared to the private sector. Pensions are going down the tubes in the private sector, and they’re nowhere near as generous as public pensions.”
The two sides could debate all day. But because both agree that public opinion counts, let me mumble an opinion.
I wish I were more resolute for one side or the other. I can’t be. Call it the Curse of the Libra.
That curse compels me to be fair, and I’d have a hard time reneging on a collective bargaining agreement. As Carre argues, what comes out in the end is a product of give-and-take. Nobody forced the county to agree.
Do I have misgivings, however, about a cushy retirement package that, if the supervisors are correct, will sink the rest of us? You bet. Life is tough and I don’t know many people who can retire comfortably at 50, as deputies and DA investigators now can.
So, I’m torn. But unless a court rules against the deputies, my bottom line is that a deal is a deal. Even if I have to pay for it.
However, would it be too cheesy of me to ask if the deputies and county can compromise, if it can be proven that the 2001 deal is a fiscal time bomb?
Why, you ask, would deputies want to do that?
To protect and serve, perhaps?
So folks, what do you think?