Matthew Cunningham over at the Red County blog wroteÂ Monday about the possibility that obligations to public employees related to their pension benefits may not be as set in stone as is currently believed. This is the same tired old mantra that is being used to try to justify taking away negotiated pension benefits from public employees. What caught my eye however was aÂ quote from an article referenced in the blogÂ of Manteca City Manager Steve Pinkerton that Cunningham cited:
The boom days of the millennium decade’s early years are over, but the now unsustainable benefits packages negotiated by California state and local governments and their employees remain â€“ some representing as much as 40 percent of overall budget costs. Our discussions with local government managers and their advisors suggest a tremendous amount of confusion and misinformation about their ability to align employee benefits costs with their fiscal realities.
I do not disagree that pension contributions are becoming greater in magnitude due to the increased contribution rates necessary to compensate for the Great Recession, but these costs hardly approach 40 percent of overall budgets.Â Â Using the County of Orange as an example, the highest pension contribution rate is for law enforcement employeesÂ at 47.39Â percent of eligible compensation. While significant, that figure is 32 percent of overall payroll costs for that classification of employee.Â Â This classification of employee is only a portion of the total county workforce. In Orange County overall payroll costs are around $1.6 billion and pension costs are around 22 percent of that total. The total county budget is $5.5 billion.
When you factor in other classifications and other non payroll costs, pension contributions for the County workforce the actual percentage of the overall Orange County budget is 6.2 percent. That is a heck of a lot lower than 40 percent by any measure. For California’s budget, salaries represent 7.5 percentÂ of the total state budget. The costs for healthcare and pension benefitsÂ are another 3.7 percent. Again, nowhere near the 40 percent figure represented in the article cited by Cunningham.
Enough already. It is time to have rational discussions about how to address our current budget shortfalls. It is time to stop blaming public employees for the budget shortfalls and stop representing their pensions as excessive and budget busting. Just because you keep repeating a lie over and over, does not make it any less of a lie.