When it comes to public employee pensions, Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to have it both ways as he decries CalPERS for undermining his 2012 changes to state retirement laws.

The nation's largest government worker pension system on Wednesday ignored the spirit and letter of the legislation as it created 99 different ways for new employees to inflate their pensions.

Brown only objected to one, thereby giving tacit consent to the other 98. Yet, after the vote, the governor promised "to determine what actions can be taken to protect the integrity of the Public Employees' Pension Reform Act."

How cynical. Facing re-election, Brown portrays himself as the defender of public coffers as he battles the mighty California Public Employees' Retirement System. In fact, he capitulated to its administrative gutting of key provisions in the law he championed two years ago.

We differed with the governor back then when he declined to trim future pension benefit accruals for current employees. But we cut him some slack because he didn't want to wade into a legal quagmire over so-called "vested rights" for workers already on the job.

The primary savings from his legislation, as small as they were, would come years down the line from restoring rationality to benefits for new workers. Now Brown is supporting letting those employees inflate their pensions much like current workers.


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At issue is the long list of add-on pay items that can be counted as income when calculating pensions.

Under the new law, current employees can still include "special compensation" for "special skills, knowledge, abilities, work assignment, workdays or hours, or other work conditions."

But the 2012 law didn't allow new employees to include those extra pay items. Their retirement income should be based only on "normal monthly rate of pay or base pay."

The CalPERS board ignored that and passed rules on Wednesday allowing new workers to count special pay items for things such as longevity, being a notary, working on a library reference desk, staying physically fit and "audio visual" assignments. For police the list includes extra pay for DUI traffic officers, marksmanship and completing Peace Officer Standard Training courses.

To make matters worse, no one bothered to estimate the long-term cost of CalPERS' action.

The governor did object to one item, which allows workers who receive pay raises for temporary assignments to count that higher income in pension calculations. He's right: It's ripe for abuse and it violates the letter of the law.

But so do the other 98 items. If only he'd "protect the integrity" of the rest of the legislation.