Commentary: California's large public pension payouts are unsustainable

This editorial appeared in The Fresno Bee.

Using data obtained from the California Public Employees Retirement System, a group of activists pushing public pension reform has compiled a list of retired public employees in California who earn $100,000 or more in pensions every year.

The information is likely to infuriate many taxpayers. According to the data compiled to date, the highest paid public employee retiree in the state is Bruce Malkenhorst, the former city administrator, clerk, finance director and treasurer of the city of Vernon. Vernon is a tiny industrial enclave near Los Angeles. He earns $499,674.84 a year or $41,639 a month in pensions.

At least 32 state and local government retirees in the central San Joaquin Valley earn more than $100,000 in annual pension pay. They include Jan Reynolds, a former Hanford city manager, $153,036; Jim Zulim, a former Clovis police chief, $114,399; George Sandoval, a former Visalia fire chief, $112,959; Bill Drennen, a former Lindsay city manager, $111,281.

Firefighters and police officers dominate the statewide list of $100,000 retirees. At the state level and in almost all local jurisdictions, public safety personnel have the richest retirement formulas.

If they work for 30 years, police and firefighters can retire in their early 50s with 90% of their last year’s salary, which is usually their highest.

Managers also dominate the $100,000 club list. These are the people who are supposed to represent the public when employee benefits are negotiated. But when government managers sit down with union leaders to dicker over compensation, they are negotiating for themselves as well. If rank-and-file workers get a wage or benefit boost, non-union managers get a commensurate hike and a matching pension benefit. The pension disclosures should cause concern. With the economy in decline, more and more public money is being diverted from key services and public employees are being laid off to keep pensions solvent.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Fresno Bee.