Steve Maviglio, pension sage: Why it’s a laughable spectacle

April 2, 2013

By Chris Reed

eGhybG8xMTI=_o_newsconference-steve-maviglioSteve Maviglio, a leading consigliere to top Sacramento Democrats for more than a decade, now regularly pretends to  a new role. Even though he’s on Speaker John Perez’s payroll, Maviglio offers himself up on Twitter in the quasi-journalistic role of reasoned, reasonable commentator on pensions. On Monday, he stuck up for the reforms Gov. Jerry Brown got through the Legislature in September and depicted the Contra Costa Times’ Dan Borenstein as being on a “jihad” against public employees because Borenstein — like lots of people — thought the reforms were insufficient given the size of the pension mess.

So let’s bother to take Maviglio seriously. A reasoned, reasonable commentator on pensions would offer an honest take on pension problems, not try to downplay their size and significance with name-calling, non sequiturs,  semantic gamesmanship and twisted use of statistics.

That’s not Steve.

In 2011, as spokesman for the Californians for Retirement Security, Maviglio depicted the pension crisis as manufactured. His press releases tore into “myths and falsehoods about public employee pensions” spreadly widely by evil “out-of-state billionaires.” What was their goal, according to Maviglio? To use “a few sensational cases of pension abuse” as a means to “attack middle-class Californians.”

Falling short on consistency, insight, math and honesty

So in 2011, Maviglio depicted the pension reforms won by Jerry Brown in 2012 as unnecessary, and now in 2013, he’s depicting them as broad, sweeping and positive. Consistency ain’t one of your strengths, Steve.

Nor is breadth of insight a Maviglian strength. For years, whenever people talked about the extreme severity of the pension crisis at the local level, in places like San Jose and San Diego, Maviglio would always shift the topic to the state level, where the pension underfunding isn’t as extreme.

Nor are math or honesty Steve’s strong suits. For years, one of Maviglio’s favorite narratives has been to assert the average CalPERS pension is tiny, about $25,000 a year, by citing median pensions of former public employees — knowing full well that category included loads of people who only worked for the government for a few years. Maviglio understands that the pension debate’s core inflammatory issue is the fact that tens of thousands of public employees in California have retired in their 50s with 75 percent to 90 percent or more of their last, highest salaries. But instead he invokes grossly misleading statistics that include pension recipients who worked for local or state government for a few years before taking other jobs.

And these are just the most obvious ways to poke holes in the idea that Maviglio is a credible pension commentator.

The ‘middle-class’ retirees with $100k-plus pensions

There are also more sophisticated ways to do so. For example, Maviglio constantly depicts pension reformers as being at war with “middle class” government workers and retirees. Then why have Maviglio and the California Democratic establishment fought so bitterly against a pension reform approved in similarly liberal Illinois a few years ago that capped pensions at $108,000 going forward adjusted for inflation? Because so many public employees would be affected. They are hardly middle-class.

And then there is the basic, somewhat mean way to poke holes in the idea that Maviglio is a credible pension commentator. He stands to get a gigantic pension after years working in $100,000-plus jobs for Gray Davis, Fabian Nunez, John Perez and others.

In short, Steve Maviglio has as much credibility on pension reform as Kinde Durkee has on campaign finance reform.

But at least his Twitter posturing on the topic will be good for some laughs.

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