Gov. Jerry Brown's 2012 pension changes did little to curtail retirement costs for existing employees. Instead, he and legislative leaders sold the package as a major reform for future workers that would reap cost-savings in coming decades.
But, absent a sudden change of heart, CalPERS board members next week will by administrative fiat undermine the key anti-spiking provision of the law by allowing new workers to fatten their pensions much as current employees can.
As a result, calculations of new employees' pensions when they eventually retire will be based on income that includes not just base salary but also any of 98 different types of special pay items -- everything from compensation for marksmanship and longevity to being a notary or working on a library reference desk.
It's likely that government employees who sit on the board will support this undermining of the law to keep pension benefits higher. One wonders if they will ever understand that the more they drive up pension costs, the less money state and local government will have to hire workers.
The bigger question is whether the remaining board members, including state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, Controller John Chiang and the board members appointed by the governor, will stand for this -- whether they will allow their political allegiances to labor to trump the law.
At issue is what counts as income on which pensions are calculated. The 2012 law was clear: Pensions for new employees should be based on their "normal monthly rate of pay or base pay."
Whereas current employees can boost their pension calculations by also including "special compensation" for "special skills, knowledge, abilities, work assignment, workdays or hours, or other work conditions," the Legislature didn't include those sorts of extra pay items for new employees.
But CalPERS staff members have determined that they know better what lawmakers intended. So they're recommending the board issue regulations that allow new employees to count those items anyhow.
Some that jump out include compensation for staying physically fit; pay premiums for confidential work or an "audio visual" assignments; and extra police pay to be DUI traffic officers, or completing Peace Officer Standard Training courses.
It's amazing the state and local governments pay extra for many of these items, which should in most cases be conditions of employment. It's appalling that it counts as income for pension calculations for current workers. It's outrageous that CalPERS might perpetuate these excesses for new employees.
So much for reform.