Marin IJ Editorial: Big pensions fuel call for reform

Marin governmental agencies, those that have tried to reform and reduce the public cost of their workers’ pensions, have mainly focused on future employees.

Our March 1 story on the lifetime benefits that top-paid retired officials are receiving is a clear reflection of why those pension policies were a mistake, a result of well-meaning, but short-sighted decisions by elected officials, who likely weren’t aware of the growing legacy costs of their approval of salaries and benefits.

In some cases, as our story pointed out, retirees are receiving more annually than those who replaced them. This is partly the result of retirees receiving annual cost-of-living increases while workers have, in recent years, seen their pay frozen or cut and anticipated raises delayed during the recession and the budget crises it caused.

Even with some agencies, such as the county, implementing caps on those annual increases for top-paid retirees, the sum is far greater than the cost-of-living bumps received by those whose pay was short of six-figure status.

Pay and pension should be respectful and fair to both the employees and taxpayers. Large and growing pensions fuel taxpayers’ call for pension reform.

The rising cost of retiree benefits has taken a dear toll on public budgets. They have become a large factor in cutbacks in public services, layoffs, increased fees and a steady flow of tax measures on the ballot.

Local officials say they’ve done what they can, mostly prospectively. Less-generous benefits have been instituted for new workers and some contracts require workers to pick up a larger share of the cost. There is a need for more state reforms, including instituting fair and reasonable caps on benefits.

But public agencies have to be clear with taxpayers about the taxpayer cost, short-term and long-term, of the pension benefits they pay.

Our story on those high-paid pensioners should serve as a reminder to our elected officials.