Study Says Public Pay Out Of Line

OCT. 5, 2010

A new California think tank is releasing a new study Wednesday on reforming public employee pay and pensions. We reprint the entire study here today with permission from the California Center for Public Policy.


Reforming Public Employee Compensation and Pensions

Executive Summary

It is time to reform public employee compensation in California. Public employee compensation is out of line with the private sector in every area. There are thousands of individual government agencies in the state, employing almost 2 million individuals. Whether the standard is salary, working conditions, benefits, or especially pensions, public employees in California receive compensation far in excess of what workers in the private sector do. It is illiberal and unjust, and no true liberal or progressive should support current public employee compensation.

Tens of thousands of public employees in the area of public safety are among the highest paid individuals in any occupation. The $2 to $5 million in annuity value that these employees may receive through pension programs in their early to middle fifties makes these  employees’ comprehensive career compensation among the highest in America.

The $1 million to $2 million in annuity value that more than a million non-public safety employees in California will receive through their pension programs in their middle fifties to early sixties similarly makes most California public employees de facto millionaires by their middle to late fifties. Frequently, California public employees, particularly in public safety, pay less than half or even nothing toward the employee’s portion of retirement programs for the benefits they will receive.

The California public employee compensation crisis will continue to cripple the state in the years ahead–and more so and sooner than most now recognize. As a result of inaccurate actuarial assumptions concerning a) long-term return on investment, b) the number of government employees in the future, and c) longevity, both the short-term and long-term fiscal crises at the state and local government levels require change immediately. The status quo is unsustainable.

Taxes are not too low in California, and public services should not be cut continually and further. Rather, the answer is to pay public employees fair salaries, benefits, and pensions–not salaries, benefits, and pensions greatly in excess of those in the private sector.

Government employees in California receive higher compensation than employees in the private sector in these and other areas:

•  Pensions

•  Salaries

•  Sick Leave

•  Holidays

•  Working Conditions

Overcompensation of public employees, considering all factors of remuneration, may approach to 80 to 120 percent more than private employees in comparable positions as a norm for hundreds of thousands, if not more than one million, public employees in the state.

The next crucial step in public employee compensation reform will be to consider legislation and to develop model initiatives that could be enacted at state and local levels to set parameters and limits on future public employee contracts.

A number of efforts in California to reform public employee compensation and pensions are already underway, including Proposition B in San Francisco this November–which would require all city employees (including existing ones, including in public safety) to contribute additional amounts to fund their pensions and medical costs. Initiated by Jeff Adachi, the elected public defender of San Francisco, Proposition B would save the city $167 million per year.

Unless and until excessive public employee compensation–especially in pensions–is addressed and really resolved, little progress is possible on any issue at the state or local levels of government for which funds are required. True liberals and progressives especially should support reform of public employee compensation.

If all public employees were paid fair compensation in California, public services could be increased substantially and taxes could be cut. This is the policy goal to seek.


Executive Summary


1.  California Public Employee Salaries and Benefits

2.  California Public Employee Pensions

3.  Initiatives for Reform



California Center for Public Policy

Report Distribution List

Acknowledgements, Contact Information


In his 1957 work The New Class, Yugoslav communist dissident Milovan Djilas wrote of the emergence of a “new class” under Communism–the government bureaucracy, who also typically were Communist Party members.

It had been predicted by Karl Marx that classes would disappear in a communist state because of the abolition of private property. But this vision of a classless society did not align with the reality that Djilas saw emerging. Rather, a new class began to appear: government employees. This class was composed of those with “special privileges and economic preference.”

Perhaps the greatest problem in government today in the United States–and more certainly at the state and local levels–is that public employee compensation is out of line with compensation in the private sector.

Public employees are paid too much, particularly in California. Their benefits are too high. Their pensions are unimaginable. The excessive compensation of public employees is the root cause of the financial challenges that confront almost all government agencies in the state.

Many government expenditures at the state and local levels–including for parks, schools, roads, health, fire, and police–are for important, ongoing public services. Services in all of these and other areas are diminishing as a result of local and state government budget crises.

The problem in California is not that taxes are too low. Many state and local taxes are already among the highest in the nation.

Neither is the problem that services should be cut further–that prisons and jails should close or release inmates, that the number of days children attend school should be reduced, that roads should be allowed to fall further into disrepair, or that social services and the social safety net should be eviscerated–so that public employees can retire in their fifties with lavish retirement plans.

There are close to 1.8 million current public employees in California.

These employees work for cities, counties, school districts, special districts, and the state government. It is likely that the real annuity value at retirement of these existing public employees exceeds $2 trillion.

CalPERS and CalSTRS have $350 billion of assets between them. Other government pension plans in California have $100 billion more.

The only way to get from $500 billion of retirement assets now to $2 trillion in 20 years would be through inflated annual rates of return on investment of 7 to 8 percent and higher, which double the value of assets every nine to ten years.

Over the next 20 years, the number of retired public employees in the state will grow to as many employees as there are now, to about 1.8 million. At that time, in real current terms, the average pension per public employee could exceed $50,000. In this case, the annual amount that retired public employees in the state would receive would be in the vicinity of $100 billion, an amount more than the annual state budget at this time. For 40 million Californians, $100 billion of pensions per year is equivalent to $2,500 per person or $10,000 per family of four. Only about one-quarter of that is funded now unless the value of underlying assets increases.

There already are more than 12,000 retired local and and state government employees who receive annual pensions in excess of $100,000.

This number will swell in the years ahead as a result of new retirees and annual cost of living adjustments to existing retirees.

By 2015, merely the top 20,000 public retirees in California will receive pensions totaling more than $3 billion per year. This will be an amount equivalent to $300 per family of four in the state per year.

The most extravagant pension benefits–3 percent of final and highest salary times the number of years worked starting at age 50 for public safety officers–is, in most government jurisdictions, recent. These are not benefits on which individuals have been planning their entire careers.

It also should be emphasized that, notwithstanding the revenue bonanza  that state and local governments received from the middle 1990s through 2007, government agencies throughout the state raised many taxes and fees, while reducing programs, during this period. There can be little question that the primary functional goal of state and local government expenditures at this time is the preservation and enhancement of the salaries, benefits, and pensions of government employees.

Government services and tax relief, or high government employee compensation and pensions–this is the choice that California faces. There is a solution for California’s fiscal crisis: pay public employees fair compensation and pensions.

1. California Public Employee Salaries and Benefits

Public employees are very well paid in California, even before pensions are considered. The cities of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara provide telling examples.

The city of Los Angeles has 83 types of clerical positions pursuant to the memorandum of understanding between it and its employee bargaining unit.

The pay range for these different clerical positions are, on average, from $43,622 per year to $53,190 per year. In general, after five years of employment with the city of Los Angeles, a secretary will earn $53,190 per year.

In addition, as a result of provisions of federal law, neither municipal employees nor employers are required to pay Social Security tax, though many municipal employees will receive some Social Security benefits on the basis of their payments into the Social Security system from employment elsewhere. The non-payment of Social Security tax now has the effect of raising the current take-home pay of city workers, compared to those in the private sector, by 6.2 percent, or $3,298 per year for a city secretary making $53,190.

Also, many employees in the city of Los Angeles receive “premium level” salaries of $1,000 to $5,000 per year above the regular salary schedule. Add it all up, and the effective take-home pay that many secretaries working for the city of Los Angeles receive after five years is about $57,500 to $61,500 per year compared to workers in the private sector.

The salaries that clerical workers receive is commensurate with that of other employees in the city of Los Angeles. With the exception of child care associates (who make $38,962 to $45,852 per year, before considering premium level salaries), golf starters ($39,859 to $49,506 per year), recreation services representatives ($39,087 to $48,546 per year), and recreation coordinators ($46,019 to $57,190), all other full-time, salaried recreation positions in the city of Los Angeles receive more than $50,000 per year to start.

In the city of Santa Barbara, the story is much the same. The following salaries are merely some positions in the city:

Public Employee Salaries in the City of Santa Barbara

Tree Trimmer $  51,532

Recreation Coordinator     58,000

Tennis Services Coordinator     67,132

Outreach Coordinator     69,525

Housing Loan Officer     79,560

Water Conservation Coordinator     81,146

Project Planner     85,306

Risk Analyst     87,906

Webmaster     94,718

Creeks Supervisor     95,186

Senior Plan Check Engineer     97,604

Housing Programs Supervisor   100,074

Accounting Manager   113,360

City Planner   131,664

Transportation Manager   131,664

Assistant Parks and Recreation Director   133,640

Assistant Community Development Director   149,130

Deputy Police Chief   170,638

Assistant City Administrator   187,590

These are well-paid positions.

Particularly concerning salaries, that former city of Bell Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo earned almost $800,000 per year was untypical but an example of the abuses that can occur in the existing system. Bell is a poor city. There is nothing progressive or egalitarian about redistributing income and wealth from poor, immigrant working families to well-healed public employees.

One of the most fiscally deleterious aspects of high salaries is that they lead to high pensions. Rizzo’s annual retirement payment will be close to $600,000. Tens of thousands of California public employees are posed to retire with pensions of $75,000 to $125,000 per year and health benefits. When high salaries are combined with salary “spiking” in the final year or years of employment, or disabilities that allow employees not to pay tax on half of their retirement benefits, high salaries and salary practices have especially significant and long-lasting financial consequences.

Not only are public employees well paid in California, but when it comes to sick leave, holidays, personal necessity days, vacation, bereavement leave, health insurance, remuneration for work expenses, and other benefits and working conditions, public employees are again in a class by themselves. They are the new aristocracy.

No other employees in California work as little as government employees both as to days and hours, are paid more for comparable work, are as secure in their employment, have better benefits, will receive more guaranteed salary increases during the course of their careers, enjoy more favorable working conditions, or receive higher pensions for which they paid less.

Particularly during the current economic circumstances, there are two classes of workers in California–public employees and everyone else. Very often, public employees have received and will continue to receive cost-of-living increases in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Concerning sick leave, 6 days often is standard in the private sector, and sick leave often is use it or lose it–with no increase in retirement benefits for unused sick leave. It is entirely different in the public sector.

Different government agencies negotiate different sick leave benefits, but 12 days of sick leave or more per year is common in California government agencies. The city of Los Angeles provides 17 days of sick leave per year–12 reimbursed at 100 percent of the employee’s daily pay rate and 5 days at 75 percent of the daily rate, a total of almost 16 sick leave days per year.

Moreover, sick leave in government agencies may be accumulated. It is not use it or lose it. Upon retirement–especially since such a large number of sick days are given each year–employees often have credit toward as much as an additional year or more of employment, thereby increasing their permanent pension by 3 to 5 percent annually.

With respect to holidays, while 6 holidays often is standard in the private sector–and though if a holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, it often is not taken (such as the 4th of July)–the standard number of holidays in the public sector is often 9, 10, or even more. Further, when a holiday falls on a weekend, for public employees it almost always is taken on the preceding Friday or following Monday.

In addition, many public employees in California receive personal necessity days or floating holidays. Most employees in the city of Los Angeles receive 14 holidays a year, including 1 or 2 floating holidays. In the city of Santa Barbara, employees have 10 holidays a year and 4 personal necessity days.

Vacation benefits for California public employees are significant. In Los Angeles, first-year employees receive 11 vacation days. At 5 years, the number of vacation days increases to 17. In many government jurisdictions, employees can sell vacation days back to the jurisdiction for pay. Vacation days in government jurisdictions typically top out in the range of 25 to 30 days per year.

Paid bereavement leave–in addition to sick leave, holidays, floating holidays, personal necessity days, and vacation–often is 3 to 5 days per year. Paid bereavement leave typically is provided as a result of the demise of an employee’s spouse, child, father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother, sister, grandparents, grandchildren, step-parents, step-children, great-grandparents, foster parents, foster children, domestic partner, any relative who resided in the employee’s household, and any household member irrespective of relation.

Public employee benefits in California often include the following:

Typical Public Employee Days Off Benefits

Sick leave 12 days per year

Holidays 10 days per year

Personal necessity   3 days per year

Bereavement   3 days per year

Vacation 22 days per year

TOTAL: 50 days per year

Essentially, California public employees have a four-day work week.

However, it is not merely the case that many California public employees work a four-day week, it’s that as a result of furloughs and flexible work schedules, many public employees are working less than a four-day week. Furloughs can be an additional 10 to 15 days per year. Though furloughed employees do not receive pay for the days they do not work, between cost-of-living adjustments and step-and-class increases hundreds of thousands of public employees have received net take-home pay increases as the number of days they do not have to report to work has increased–as a result of furloughs–from 50, to 60 to 65.

The rise in the use of furloughs to address local and state government financial shortfalls since 2009 merits notice. Very often, government entities–big and small, throughout the state–are using furloughs to reduce expenses.

A standard approach is to furlough employees for two to three weeks per year, effectively a 3.8 percent to 5.8 percent reduction in work and pay. But state and local government employees often have had cost-of-living adjustments negotiated in the past that have remained operational through 2009, 2010, and even 2011 that are greater than this amount. In addition, most public employees (particularly those in the their first 10 years) received and will receive step-and-class increases in excess of 3.8 to 5.8 percent in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

This means that, as a result of the combination of preexisting negotiated general increases in salary, individual step-and-class increases, and furloughs, most public employees in California have higher take-home pay than they did in 2008 often by as much 5 to 10 percent even with a furlough, and they are working 10 to 15 fewer days each year–though they previously may have had as many as 50 days off.

The City of Santa Barbara has a flexible work schedule whereby city offices are closed every other Friday–24 days a year–and employees are to work an additional 45 minutes on other days. Between the flexible work schedule, furloughs, sick leave, holidays, personal necessity days, bereavement leave, and vacations, Santa Barbara city employees regularly have 80 to 90 days per year Monday through Friday that they do not have to report to work and yet be full-time, little more than a three-day work week.

Government health benefit plans typically are the top of the line. Many plans cost $10,000 to $12,000 per employee per year. Many public employee health care plans cover dental and vision, and have limited co-pays. In addition, many government agencies pay all or some of health benefits for retirees before Medicare commences.

With respect to other benefits that public employees receive, many agencies provide stipends for being bilingual and life and disability insurance. Employee uniform expenses are provided both as to acquisition and cleaning.  Rain gear is provided for employees who work outdoors.  Employees also often enjoy generous overtime pay, shift differential pay, bonus pay, severance pay, holiday pay, certificate pay, and specialty pay.

Public employees are provided with many opportunities for step and class increases in salary, often on the basis of longevity, meaning that most  public employees have received annual salary increases between an increase in step or class combined with cost of living adjustments, of between 6 and 10 percent per year during almost each of their first 10 years working for state and local government agencies.

It is difficult to terminate public employees, and reductions in force are usually handled through attrition, or now increasingly furlough. Scheduling issues for vacation, personal necessity days, and other time off are handled easily. Many government agencies provide wellness programs and child care opportunities.

Public employees in California have among the shortest work weeks of any employees, receive higher salaries, pay less for pension costs but receive higher pension benefits at a younger age, and have excellent health and other benefits and working conditions. It is no wonder that there regularly are hundreds of applicants for public employee positions.

2. California Public Employee Pensions

Public employee pensions in California are without parallel. No employees in any other fields possess the retirement benefits that are standard for almost two million public employees in the state.

There are two major state public employee retirement systems–CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System) and CalSTRS (California State Teachers’ Retirement System). These programs cover most public employees in the state. There are currently about 800,000 active members and 500,000 retirees and beneficiaries in CalPERS.

There are about 600,000 active and inactive members and 200,000 beneficiaries and retirees in CalSTRS.

This is a total of more than 2 million Californians, working or retired, who are a part of these two systems. There are about another 400,000 state and local government workers covered by government pension programs other than CalPERS and CalSTRS, and about another 200,000 retirees.

California has more than 3,000 government agencies–cities, counties, school districts, special government districts, and the state itself. Some of these agencies are very large, but most are small. Each of them has separately negotiated contracts, including retirement benefits, with employees, usually represented by public employee unions. Many cities and counties have as many as a dozen or more separate bargaining units with which they negotiate. There are tens of thousands of separate public employee bargaining unit contracts in the state, all with unique contract provisions.

There are a total of about 1.8 million state and local public employees in California (excluding federal employees) and 900,000 public employee retirees and beneficiaries. About 2.7 million Californians are either enrolled in public employee pension programs or currently receive payments or other benefits from them. The state’s population is about 38 million. This means that about 7 percent of all Californians are either scheduled to receive state or local government pensions or currently receive them. If one considers family members living in the same household, the figure could grow to one Californian in seven.

The political and economic stakes of reforming public employee compensation–particularly pensions–are enormous. Individuals who have placed nothing, thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars into public employee pension programs are scheduled to receive hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars in pension benefits.

Though the details of formulas differ, virtually all public employees receiving pensions in the state receive them on the basis of the number of years they worked, a certain retirement age, and a percentage of final or highest salary. For example, sworn police and fire officers often receive 3 percent of their final salary times the number of years they worked starting at age 50 up to a maximum of 90 percent of their salary. So, if an individual became a police officer at age 20, he or she would be eligible to retire at age 50 with an annual pension of 90 percent of final salary with annual cost of living adjustments thereafter. If the officer’s final salary were $100,000, the annual pension would start at $90,000.

Pensions are less generous for public employees who are not public safety officers, but pensions remain extremely generous compared to the private sector. Many secretaries, custodians, mid-level administrators, personnel working for police and fire departments other than sworn officers, and top administrators are able to retire with a pension on the following formula: They may retire at age 55 with 2.7 percent of their final and highest salary times the number of years they worked, up to a maximum of 75 percent of final salary. For example, if a secretary in a government agency retired at age 55 after having worked 28 years, she would receive an annual pension of 75 percent of final salary with annual cost of living adjustments thereafter. If the employee retired at a final salary of $65,000 as an administrative assistant or senior office personnel, the annual pension would start at age 55 at $48,750. Other common retirement formulas include 2 percent at age 55, 2.5 percent at 55, and 3 percent at 60.

Government pensions are even more advantageous for government employees than these figures indicate. It is not merely that the standard retirement age for hundreds of thousands of state and local employees is becoming 50 to 55 with an annual pension indexed for inflation thereafter of $50,000 to $100,000. It is that government employees in many jurisdictions pay a portion less than half, or (often in the case of public safety officers) nothing, toward their retirement benefits.

Unlike in the private sector, where pension programs typically are paid one-half by the employer and one-half by the employee, payment of pension benefits has been a subject of negotiation between public employee unions and government agencies for many years. Public employee unions representing law enforcement and fire personnel have been the most effective in having their public agency in many jurisdictions pay all or most of the employee’s share of pension payments.

That many public employees in California pay less than half or nothing toward their share of retirement premiums increases these costs to taxpayers and government agencies. For public safety officers, retirement premiums can be from 31 to 39 percent of salary. The cost of retirement premiums for other public employees can be from 14 to 20 percent of salary, depending on the terms of retirement programs and position.

In addition, when government agencies pay for some portion of employees’ retirement premiums, this amount then may be added to the compensation on which retirement benefits are calculated. In other words, it is not merely that governments may pay for some portion of public employees’ share of retirement premiums, it is that this amount may be added to the salary on which the retirement benefit is determined. Particularly in public safety, retirement benefits can exceed final salary.

But the public employee pension crisis is even more serious than the picture painted heretofore. CalPERS pension plans have been required by law in California to be calculated on the actuarial basis of a 7.75 percent annual increase in the market value of assets in the system, and CalSTRS pensions are calculated on the basis of an 8 percent annual increase. As this has not occurred in recent years, governments at all levels are beginning to have to pay retirement benefits from their general funds. This undoubtedly will increase in the future.

This is how profound the problem is. If the long-term return on investment rate were adjusted to 6 percent, the state of California and local government agencies would owe something like an additional $20 billion per year for retirement premiums.

California public agencies would be wiped out financially and scores would have to declare bankruptcy. If the long-term rate of return on investment were adjusted to 4 percent per year, state and local government agencies could owe an additional $40 billion per year.

Current California public employee retirement programs are unsustainable. If the stock market has a major, multiyear correction, the state would collapse fiscally.

But it is not merely that if the stock market falls, governments around California will fall with it, it’s that the existing system becomes more unsustainable every year as the number of retirees increases and all retirees receive cost of living adjustments. It sometimes is said, in defense of public employee pensions, that the average public retiree receives merely about $24,000 per year. This is true, but not illuminating.

For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2009, CalPERS paid $11.85 billion in benefits to 492,513 retirees, beneficiaries, and survivors, an average annual benefit of $24,060.

But this includes retirees who worked as few as five years in public employment. As well, it includes beneficiaries and survivors, including widows, ex-spouses, and others. In addition, it includes public employees who retired before 1999–when the legislature passed, and Governor Gray Davis signed, legislation conferring increased retirement benefits on all state workers.

Current and future retirees will receive more pension and health benefits than previous retirees. Over time, as the number of retirees increases and the average benefit of retirees goes up, existing systems will reach the breaking point, irrespective of the stock market. Most existing underfunding models of public employee pensions do not include the likelihood of long-term returns on investment of lower than 7.75 to 8 percent in coming years.

In addition, California government agencies at all levels will have fewer employees in the future than in the past, reducing revenue to retirement systems. Though this cuts both ways in the long run, in that there will be fewer employees who will receive pensions decades hence, in the short to intermediate run of the next five to fifteen years there will be less payment by employees into pension programs as the number of retirees increases almost unaffected.

Pension fund contributions from government agencies, as opposed to from employees, will have to increase greatly. The only question is how much and how soon. In any year, it could be additional billions of dollars from the state and local government agencies.

Moreover, the issue of longevity has not yet been adequately incorporated into retirement models. As people live longer, hundreds of thousands of California public employees will receive pensions for longer than they worked for government agencies–indexed for inflation, and at or above (particularly after a few years of cost of living adjustments) the final and highest salary. There will be more retirees than employees, and the average pension of hundreds of thousands of retirees will approach and even exceed the average salary of existing workers.

The projected rates of return, increase in the number of beneficiaries, decrease in the number of public employees, guaranteed annual cost of living adjustments, and likely life expectancy of public employee retirees are all so far out of line with sound projecting that it genuinely is the case that the problem of public employee pensions is worse and will become even more significant sooner than now believed. California is on its way to becoming Greece. Indeed, some of the pensions that are standard for California public employees are without parallel, even in Greece.

As well as for financial reasons, it is unsatisfactory public policy to pay so much for retirement benefits to have a system which encourages the retirement of capable employees in their prime management and supervisory years. By encouraging public safety and other government employees to retire in their early to middle fifties, the current system diminishes actual public safety and good government.

It often is to the financial advantage of public employees to retire in their fifties–they would make almost as much, and sometimes even more, than they did for the bulk of their career, often within a few years of retirement. In the coming years, retired public employees likely will receive higher increases each year in retirement benefits than public employees who remain working, much less private sector employees.

None of this is feasible, unless California is to become a state in which millions of retired government employees, hundreds of thousands of whom receive a hundred thousand or more dollars per year in pension, are supported by everyone else. Indeed, this is the future that is almost guaranteed to emerge in the next 20 years–unless the state’s public employee pension systems are reformed.

3. Initiatives for Reform

So dire are the financial circumstances that California governments face at all levels that it is inevitable there will be reform. Current inequities are too great, the waste of public funds is too manifest, and current outcomes are too illiberal for this not to occur. The question is the path that reform will take. In particular, will reform apply only to new public employees, or will it be comprehensive and apply to all–including existing–public employees?

It is not correct that public employee compensation reform must apply exclusively to new employees–that existing employees cannot have future contracts subject to certain parameters.

The most important local initiative on the ballot this November concerning public employee compensation is Proposition B in San Francisco, which would require that city employees–including existing city workers–contribute more to their pension and health insurance costs.

Promoted by San Francisco’s elected public defender, Jeff Adachi, Proposition B would require all police and firefighters, including existing public safety personnel, to pay 10 percent of their pension contributions, up from the current 7.5 to 9 percent. Other city employees would pay 9 percent. In addition, city employees would have to pay 50 percent, rather than 25 percent, of family health insurance.

Proposition B would save approximately $167 million per year. About 11,000 employees of the City of San Francisco would be affected.

A number of other local measures are on the ballot on November 2nd, including Measure D in Bakersfield, which would reduce pension benefits for newly-hired public safety personnel; Proposition G in Carlsbad, which would require a vote of the people to increase public employee pensions; and Measure L in Menlo Park, which would increase the retirement age of new city employees from age 55 to 60 and decrease the percentage of final salary times the number of years worked in determining retirement benefits from 2.7 to 2.0 percent. In addition, there are several local advisory measures on the ballot on public employee compensation reform.

Of the proposals, Proposition B in San Francisco is the most significant. It would affect the most employees and crucially existing employees, including in public safety. Proposition B would amend the San Francisco Charter specifically with respect to pensions as follows:

A.8.490 Employee Contributions to Pension … Plans

  1. Notwithstanding any provision of this Charter, all active employees who are uniformed members of the police and fire departments shall contribute 10% of each payment of compensation from participating retirement System employers to the Retirement System …
  2. Notwithstanding any provision of this Charter, all active miscellaneous employees who are members of the Retirement System shall contribute 9% of each payment of compensation from participating Retirement System employers to the Retirement System …
  3. This section shall govern any memorandum of understanding (MOU) or collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the City and County of San Francisco (City) and any employee organization representing actively employed members of the system reached after the November 2010 general election.

About 76,000 signatures were gathered to place Measure B on the ballot.

Collective bargaining agreements with public employees typically take the form of  memoranda of understanding between government agencies and particular bargaining units. If Proposition B in San Francisco is successful, the stage will be set for future initiatives and legislation across California that would place the terms of future memoranda of understanding  and contracts within certain parameters concerning salary, benefits, and pensions. Existing contracts would not be affected, but future contracts would be.

Model legislation and initiatives could be developed that would set minimum numbers of days and hours that public employees worked. Legislation and initiatives could be developed that would require public employees to pay one-half of pension costs. Legislation and initiatives could be developed that would require pension funds to calculate future earnings on sound actuarial bases.

Voters or the state legislature could mandate salary freezes for public employees until their comprehensive compensation reached no more than that of comparable employees in the private sector. As well, salary freezes could be implemented for all public employees receiving more than $100,000 per year.

Voters could require that all public employees remain employed until standard Social Security retirement ages to receive retirement benefits. Public employee pension programs could be changed from defined benefit to defined contribution or hybrid plans. Cost of living adjustments could be lowered. In these ways, the compensation and pensions of public employees could become similar to other employees’.

Voters also could mandate that public employee pensions be no more than $100,000 per year.

In short, the following all would be areas subject for legislation or voters’ initiatives at the state and local levels to alleviate excessive public employee compensation:

•  Require that all public employees work a certain number of days

•  Set parameters on sick leave, holidays, personal necessity days, and vacation

•  Require public employees to pay one-half of pension premiums

•  Establish sound actuarial bases for pension benefits

•  Salary freezes for public employees

•  Retirement age changed to standard Social Security ages

•  Retirement plans changed from defined benefit to defined contribution

•  Cost of living adjustments capped

•  Set maximum retirement benefit at $100,000 per year

All public employees have an incentive to see that the existing system does not break down. Reform of public employee compensation is as important for public employees who are early in their careers as it is to provide more public services and lower taxes.


California faces a budgetary shortfall of tremendous proportions for years. Merely the state government budget could be $20 billion per year systemically out of balance, and school district, county, and city budgets are all in long-term structural short-fall as well. If rates of return on public employee retirement assets are adjusted downward, then the California fiscal crisis could develop into bankruptcy of the state.

In a reversal of historical trends, California‘s unemployment rate is now substantially higher than the rest of the nation’s. The precipitous decline in real estate prices particularly affects California. The increase in revenue to governments at all levels as a result of the rise in property values during the period from 2002 to 2008 is unlikely to be repeated in the near future.

California squandered a one-time source of revenue from escalating property tax income on government employee salaries, benefits, and pensions, and public employee unions have attempted to lock these benefits into the future. Income from other sources of state and local government funding, including sales tax, increased as well, in part because governments at all levels raised taxes, fees, and charges throughout the first decade of the 2000s.

As a result of population growth, California will experience increased demand for government services and capital infrastructure in the coming years. Retention of existing services, much less of expansion to accommodate population growth, will require more efficient government.

California faces three choices in the coming years to right its government fiscal imbalance at state, school district, county, and city levels–though usually only the first two are considered:

  1. reduce services;
  2. raise taxes, fees, and charges; or
  3. pay public employees fair salaries, benefits, and pensions

The third choice is the preferred alternative to avoid either further and continually diminishing government services, or further and continually increasing taxes, or both. California’s budgetary crises would be resolved with more more public services and lower taxes if public employees were paid fair salaries, benefits, and pensions.

California Center for Public Policy

The California Center for Public Policy is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to public dialogue and research in areas of public policy, including public employee compensation, education, and economic issues. The purpose of the Center is to identify workable policy solutions to societal issues, with an emphasis on government efficiency.

For further information, see the California Center for Public Policy website at:

Report Distribution List

Government Officials

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Members and Candidates, California State Senate

Members and Candidates, California State Assembly


Acknowledgments and Contact Information

A number of individuals and institutions assisted in the preparation of this report. The Arthur N. Rupe Foundation, its founder, Art Rupe, and president, Jeff Cain, provided much encouragement and the foundation provided research assistance. Particular benefit was obtained from material of the California Budget Project, Pacific Research Institute, California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, Evergreen Freedom Foundation, and UCLA Anderson Forecast. Individuals who reviewed the manuscript in draft include Joe Armendariz of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, Steven Greenhut of the Pacific Research Institute, and Marcia Fritz of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility. Nik Schiffmann provided research assistance. In addition, much information was obtained from reports of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and employees of it and other government agencies. Particular appreciation should be expressed to the Santa Barbara News-Press and its co-publishers, Wendy McCaw and Arthur von Wiesenberger, for the opportunity to develop some of these issues and themes in their opinion and editorial pages.

Principal author of this report–and for further information, please contact–Dr. Lanny Ebenstein. Dr. Ebenstein is a visiting professor in the department of economics at UCSB, and is the author of biographies of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.

Lanny Ebenstein, Ph.D., President

California Center for Public Policy

P.O. Box 3480

Santa Barbara, CA  93130

Ph. (805) 682-9815


Write a comment
  1. John Lowrey
    John Lowrey 5 October, 2010, 16:52

    Dr.Eberstein casts a wide net. He tars all pensioners with the same brush. Pension reform to eliminate abuses is reasonable, but broadscale criticism of all pensioners is irresponsible, political manuveuring. It comes as no surprise that people involved in this project include those who would convert all pensions to 401k’s and expose everyone to the ups and downs of the market.

    Reply this comment
  2. Tough Love
    Tough Love 6 October, 2010, 08:14

    Dear private Sector taxpayers ….. RENEGE on ANY further funding of Civil Servant pensions …….. until the value of THEIR pensions no longer exceeds YOURS (which will likely not happen for 50 years) !

    Reply this comment
  3. YaRight
    YaRight 6 October, 2010, 08:45

    Ok, this article keeps referring to government employees as one and the same. LOCAL government is not the same for all cities and counties and really is not the same as a state employee. So LA and Santa Barbara (very expensive places) pay high salaries, good for them. If you live there and don’t like it then deal with it locally. I can tell you that what they posted is not the complete story and does not represent the entire state. So quit lumping everyone together and compare apples to apples.

    Reply this comment
  4. McVick
    McVick 6 October, 2010, 11:15

    I work for local government in California and I can assure you that we do not get all of the days off as described in this article. We get 5 days of sick leave per year, a bare bones health care plan – not the premium policy mentioned, no health care payments in retirement, a retirement of 2% at 55, which means most of us will receive less in retirement than those on social security. The majority of us will be working through our 60’s like everyone else because the exorbitant health care costs would eat up our monthly pension check. Government employment is not the cush place you may think it is.

    Reply this comment
  5. Todd
    Todd 6 October, 2010, 12:55

    John Lowrey,

    Are you for real?

    What makes you think you’re better than those in the private sector who must ‘be exposed to the ups and downs of the market’? Is it because you get less pay? No. Is it because you have lesser benefits? No. Is it because you get less vacation? No.

    So what is it? Are you special?

    Switching all pensions to 401k’s is exactly the right thing to do. If you don’t want do deal with the ups and downs of the market, there is this thing called a ‘money market’.

    As it is, the taxpayer is on the hook for these endless abuses by public union pensions. It’s got to stop ASAP. And even if it did stop right now (which it won’t), there will still many years of severe pain. Unbelievable.

    Reply this comment
  6. SkippingDog
    SkippingDog 6 October, 2010, 14:07

    The California Center for Public Policy is a joke. It’s just another conservative blogger with a low-end website on which to post Republican and Chamber of Commerce propaganda.

    I suspect that Tough Love is working for the U.S. Chamber as well, since he continues to post from New Jersey on every public pension story that is published.

    Reply this comment
  7. Tough Love
    Tough Love 6 October, 2010, 16:51

    McVick, Now lets set this right … you said “a retirement of 2% at 55, which means most of us will receive less in retirement than those on social security. ”

    So lets say you worked for 35 years from 20-55. You’d get 70% of you final pay. Under Social Security, unless you were making an incredibly low salary (say $10-$15K annually) you would get a MUCH MCUH MUCH LOWER % of final pay from SS than than the 70% you are getting … more like 20-40%.

    So cut the BS. AT EVERY pay level your Civil Servant pensions are WAY better than comparably paid Private Sector employees.

    Reply this comment
  8. Tough Love
    Tough Love 6 October, 2010, 16:54

    Todd …. Hopefully that “sever pain” will not be felt by thew taxpayers, but rather by the Greedy Civil Servants when their “rich” Plans ultimately fail and the taxpayers tell them to whistle Dixie.

    Reply this comment
  9. Tough Love
    Tough Love 6 October, 2010, 16:56

    Skipping Dog, Just saw your comment …. what’s the matter, you can’t stand listening to the truth ?

    Reply this comment
  10. Proud Union Man
    Proud Union Man 6 October, 2010, 19:59

    Maybe the private sector companies need to raise wages and benefits to match those of public employees.God forbid we ask them to do that,because we all know that it is only civil servants who are greedy not the big oil and banking corporations,big box retailers,Ebay etc. they are altruistic and have only the worker’s welfare in mind.
    What is wrong with you civil servants? Don’t you know that America is a place where we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps? Where we all can rub two nickels together and be the next Bill Gates? We lobby to keep minimum wages low so that you can start your own business,pay your workers low wages with no benefits,no retirement and fire them when they get injured so that you can become another humanitarian millionaire.You public employees should be ashamed.We all know that serfdom,slavery, and company towns are the best way to run America.

    Reply this comment
  11. Proud Union Man
    Proud Union Man 6 October, 2010, 20:02

    P.S.-You all seem to forget that Civil Servants pay taxes too-that would make them self employed.

    Reply this comment
  12. MRCx209
    MRCx209 6 October, 2010, 22:07

    Public Employees Retirement plans are good, and why not. Public Employees don’t get bonues, stock options and all that good stuff. I didn’t hear a word when all the private sector cowards were getting those big stock payouts and Christmas checks. You know what the public employee got, more work. As for Police and Fire they should get it. 30 years of taking peoples crap because they broke the law, or getting punched and shot at. Fire fighter putting out house fires that some dumb ass started. Or pulling dead bodies out of car crashes. The only people who have a legit gripe is the Military. The enlisted 20 plus year grunt get jack…So, to the private sector employee who thinks the public employee gets too much, pick up a gun or a hose, defend your community for a week… Then tell me they get too much… Other than that shut the hell up…

    Reply this comment
  13. Tough Love
    Tough Love 7 October, 2010, 08:14

    Dear Proud Union Man and MRCx209 …. the taxpayers are not going to further fund these RICH pensions (multiples of what THEY get) so you can live in great comfort & security as well as retiring 10-20 years EARLIER than THEY do.

    So prepare yourself and save, save, save.

    You’re gonna need it when your pension Plan runs out of money and the payments stop or get significantly reduced.

    Oh, and all those “contractual” clauses in laws, Regs, and the Constitution …. they’ll mean SQUAT when they money is gone. The courts can’t create the money.

    Reply this comment
  14. MRCx209
    MRCx209 7 October, 2010, 10:53

    If you really think that will happen you are sorely mistaken. There will be modifications, sure. But if you think that public employees are going to stand back and take the brunt of the legislatures and governors poor management choices you are wrong. They day you have to give up your stock options, bonuses and take a pay cut thenaybe you’ll feel the same as I do. People should be angry at the big companies that put to top guys before everyone who doing the real work. The auto exec who’s making millions a year laying off the assembly line worker who’s making 20k a year. Why don’t they give back. Everyone wants to attack the other guy instead of looking at themselves. Can public employees give back to help out, sure, and we have. But did we ask you to take a pay cut when the economy is bad. No. Do we attack your retirement benefits, no. So why attack us. Your just sour grapes and want a pound of flesh and that only people that can be attacked are the public employees. Is anyone asking the legislators to cut thier retirement benefits. That can serve one term and collect 100% of their salary for the rest of thief lives. What’s wrong with that picture. Have someone do an audit on that. If you want good educated police, fire and gov. Employees it’s gonna cost ya. If not you get what you pay for. I can make just as much at IBM, Google, or EBay.

    Reply this comment
  15. Proud Union Man
    Proud Union Man 7 October, 2010, 11:36

    First all of the problems were blamed on illegal immigrants that did not work now the target is public employees’ pensions.

    Reply this comment
  16. Proud Union Man
    Proud Union Man 7 October, 2010, 11:44

    Please include me and all of the other evil public employees when you talk of taxpayers.We are not royalty living apart from society.We all pay taxes. I would like to add that Lanny Ebenstein’s missive had no footnotes or citations supporting his claims.

    Reply this comment
  17. Tough Love
    Tough Love 7 October, 2010, 15:42

    Dear Proud Union Man and MRCx209:

    My advocating for to change can be summarized as follows …

    At EVERY pay level (from the $25K worker to the $300K executive), the value of the employer (meaning TAXPAYER ) paid-for share of the “typical” Civil Servants’ retirement package (pension & retiree healthcare) is 2-4 times greater in value than that of the employer paid-for share of a comparably paid Private Sector worker retiring at the SAME age and with the SAME years of service …. and that 2-4 times rises to 4-6 times for “safety workers”.

    You can try to spin this any way you like, but it will still be unaffordably expensive, unsustainable, and grossly unfair to taxpayers whose contributions (together with the interest earned thereon) pay for 80-90% of these pensions & benefits.

    Please tell me WHY you thing this is “fair”.

    Reply this comment
  18. DavidfromLosGatos
    DavidfromLosGatos 7 October, 2010, 15:44

    “Please include me and all of the other evil public employees when you talk of taxpayers.We are not royalty living apart from society.We all pay taxes.”

    Except, of course, for the tax-free “disability” portion of the pensions. It was nice and timely for the newly “retired” Bell Police chief to give us all a text-book lesson on how to both scam a fat pension AND avoid paying taxes on half of it, so he won’t have to contribute to the fat pensions of the other scammers.

    Reply this comment
  19. Bruce
    Bruce 7 October, 2010, 22:10


    I’m a perfectly middle-class Californian in the private sector, in a job where I make roughly what a starting police officer does in my town. In the past two years, I’ve taken a five percent pay cut, seen bonuses (never more than perhaps $3,000 in a good year) disappear, had our 401(k) match suspended and had new pension credits (for a 1 percent at 65 plan) frozen. The 401(k) match has since returned. Still waiting for better times for the rest.

    So with all due respect, hop on the clue train.

    Reply this comment
  20. John Gardner
    John Gardner 9 October, 2010, 20:39

    This was true even back at the time of the last local survey we did in Bakersfield before I retired from a major oil company: the “premier” employers in terms of pay were clearly the city, county and state, and we couldn’t even hope to compete. Since then (i.e., Gov. Davis) the retirement plan was boosted to far exceed private industry (and, beyond that, includes administrative provisions/policies that we would have viewed as simply “crazy”) …

    Reply this comment
  21. Assembly Line Worker Job Description
    Assembly Line Worker Job Description 11 October, 2010, 04:07

    Is the salaried part really true..i don’t think so!

    Assembly Line Worker Job Description

    Reply this comment
  22. WorkingInTheOC
    WorkingInTheOC 11 October, 2010, 12:08

    Orange County has already taken steps toward pension reform. 15% of my gross pay now is taken for my portion of the pension plan. In addition, we gave up pay raises for 3 out of 4 years in the mid 2000’s, when others were getting raises. We agreed to cover the entire cost of an enhanced pension plan, and we are.
    A strict 401K type plan would not be wise. Our union and County Supervisors worked out a balanced plan of a small pension (very similar in cost and benefit) to what Social Security provides the private sector, with a 401K type plan available in addition to it. It is not wise to only have a 401K with no pension AND no Social Security. This could lead to people retiring with nothing. And as much as my fiscally conservative leanings don’t want a government-based retirement plan like Social Security, there are some Americans who retire with nothing but Social Security, having squandered all their other earnings. Some forced savings is necessary, or we will once again see destitute elderly.

    Reply this comment
  23. reality
    reality 30 October, 2010, 08:23

    Times are tough and the public sector in la and other metros have been living fat for some time they should have invested and saved on these salaries. the municipalities could go bust.
    The sentiment is how do you pay for these excessive benefits w/o revenue? And it should be across the board not just new hires. reduce all existing pensioners by 50% and scale back inflated final years. no cost of living increases in tough times and reduced %’s. I have to admit anyone would be envious of such excesses and jealous.

    Reply this comment
  24. Al in SoCal
    Al in SoCal 9 January, 2011, 11:48

    This entire conversation is so lame. Private industry workers attacking state workers, state workers attacking private workers – when the real people to blame are the industries that are raking in record profits and providing less and less benefits so that when we see one group of people who do have a decent benefit structure we instantly get jealous and want them reduced the paltry 2 week vacation, 5 day sick time, 8 day vacation time most employers give.

    Instead of ragging on state workers – how about ragging on our own industries that have “normalized” terrible benefits? I’m not a public worker, but I don’t think that just because my employer gives me not-so-great benies means that everyone else should get crap benefits as well.

    Reply this comment
  25. Louis Liuag
    Louis Liuag 11 February, 2011, 10:07

    The current Federal, State of California, County, City, Educational retirement system WILL BANKRUPT the country. The first will be the local agencies.
    I support the elimination of the current bargining union system that donate huge funds (all public)to support pawn politicians that have the adacity to INCREASE their own salaries and all civic employees under dire monetary deficits. There is no mechanism to lower salaries, benefits in periods of financial impoverishment.
    Go FOR IT !!!!

    Reply this comment

Write a Comment

Leave a Reply

Related Articles

New analysis ranks California nearly last in liberty

When it comes to liberty, California is one of the most restrictive states on its citizens, according to a new study. The

CA gun control repeal effort builds

  Gun rights groups have turned up the heat on Sacramento’s newest firearms restrictions, mounting an effort to repeal seven

Obama heads Stanford Summit on cybersecurity

On Friday, President Obama travels to Stanford University to give the keynote address on a topic much in the news: