10/31/08

SEIU pension grab: Bankrupt policy

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Militant special interest group kills the golden goose

While most people have watched their 401K values drop with the stock market over the past several weeks, taxpayers may have spend millions more propping up pensions paid to county and state retirees.

"No matter what happens to the economy, the county has to pay the pension fund to pay the employees who are retired and that will retire," said Mike Turnipseed of the Kern Taxpayers Association

That means many government retirees won't see their retirement payments drop.

Public employee unions have pushed hard for pension benefits for their members and many lawmakers agreed to guarantee those retirement benefits at specific levels.

So when the economy tanks, more taxpayer money is cut from the county's budget to pay the pension.

"Something as unsustainable as this, I don't know why they gave it away," Turnipseed said of the pension deals. "I'm sure they were given a rosy scenario."

Fourth District Supervisor Ray Watson said it was pretty much a done deal when he was elected.

"There are rules that you have to go by in negotiating and that was pretty much a done deal when I came on board," Watson said.

In the last round of negotiations, Watson said the system was changed so new employees share more of their pension costs.

"Politicians want to take the easy route out, and if they can give something that keeps employees happy they will," Watson said.

Figures from December show the county's pension plan is $766 million underfunded if all employees who are eligible to retire did all at once.

Though that scenario is remote, the underfunded figure is also expected to grow.

SEIU Local 521 spokeswoman Aimee Barajas defended the pension plans.

"It just has to do with our economy these days. It costs so much to live," Barajas said. "It's one of the benefit of being a county employee. When you're dedicated, work hard, those are some of your benefits,"

The State pension fund is also losing billions in the stock market and looking to taxpayers for help.

The Sacramento Bee reports the California Public Employees' Retirement System lost 19 percent since the fiscal year began July 1, which could force CalPERS to demand higher contributions from local governments agencies that rely on the fund for pensions.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) previously served in the California Assembly, representing the Bakersfield area.

McCarthy said he arrived in Sacramento after the pension agreements were made but blames the failure to fix the problem not on the Legislature, but on labor.

"We have to be very honest, this is all we can afford," McCarthy said. But as it was defined as it went through, the Union fought it and it was defeated."

Pension problems can sink local governments.

"I don't think there is any way out of it, unless you're looking at bankruptcy," Kern taxpayers' Turnipseed said.

Pension problems did help force the city of Vallejo to file for bankruptcy.

(kget.com)

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