California’s public pension jackpot

Sept. 21, 2012

By Jennifer Kerns

Last spring, three Maryland co-workers won the Mega Millions lottery and, as the old saying goes, it couldn’t have happened to nicer people.

Lotto officials announced that three public school employees struck it rich with a $200 Million winning ticket. The trio called themselves “the three amigos” and were described by Lottery officials as “the kind of people you hoped would win.”  Apparently they had all struggled with bills in this down economy.

But one doesn’t necessarily need to buy a lottery ticket to win big. Forget Maryland.

If you’re a public school employee in California, chances are you’ve probably already hit the jackpot.

California ranks number one in the highest pensions for public employees — outranking even New York and New Jersey.  Here there are a whopping 856,000 teachers and other school personnel across 1,900 districts currently within the California State Teachers Retirement System. The average pension for each of those teachers in California is $1 million over a 20-year period. Which means we have created a “millionaire teachers” class within the California economy.

Some school administrators take home $200,000-per-year pensions. And as reported recently by the Associated Press, some of those administrators have taken advantage of a little-known retention plan to take lump sum cash payouts of $147,000 on top of those already-bloated pensions. These are the kind of winnings one could only get through a lottery — or, as we say in California, just your average day at the school playground.

Prop. 30

As if that weren’t enough, Californians are now being asked to approve yet another tax increase through Proposition 30, thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown and the teachers’ unions. However, even as the governor and his friends are selling this ticket to voters as a way to increase funding for schools, the California School Boards Association admits revenue raised from the governor’s ballot initiative won’t go to classrooms. It would actually go into California’s General Fund, making the odds very high that new revenue from Prop. 30 would go toward more bloated pensions and more government spending. After all, all government money is fungible.

In fact, David Crane asserts that 100 percent of the revenues from Prop. 30 will go to pensions (mostly due to investment shortfalls since the Great Recession).  You sure wouldn’t know it by reading the Prop. 30 propaganda. Crane, a Democrat, is a finance expert and a former economic adviser to then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Finally, speaking of lotteries, California’s own lottery once promised to save education.  The California Lottery has provided a whopping $24 billion to public schools since 1985, yet schools are still failing.

Why? Because time has proven that simply throwing money at a system won’t solve the problems.  Lawmakers haven’t trimmed the necessary fat from the budget and they haven’t allowed reforms — not even the simple act of allowing competitive bidding on services such as lawn care. And they’ve done virtually nothing on pension reform. To this day, classrooms continue to hang in the balance, relying upon the “lottery” that is our ballot box in order to find out where their next round of funding will come from.

Come Nov. 6, voters will determine whether or not they believe Brown’s Prop. 30 is not the winning ticket for California.

Jennifer Kerns is a taxpayer advocate and communications strategist.  Over the last 10 years, she has served as a media consultant to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, as an Assistant Secretary of State for California, as Senior Press Secretary for former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, and as the former Spokeswoman for the California Republican Party. Kerns is the only Press Secretary to unanimously win every single newspaper endorsement for a Republican Statewide candidate in California. She can be reached at [email protected]

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