Pension Coalition to Governor, Legislature: Don’t Undermine Retirement Security3 min read

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A broad coalition representing California’s public employees sent a letter Tuesday to California Gov. Jerry Brown and members of the Legislature, urging them to protect retirement security for those who serve the public.

The letter from the Californians for Health Care and Retirement Security (CHCRS) reminds the governor and lawmakers, currently engaged in talks to try to fill California’s gaping budget hole, of the concessions that state workers already have made to save state government $400 million. CHCRS represents more than 1.5 million teachers, firefighters, police, professional engineers, and public employees and retirees.

The text of the letter is as follows:

“For the past several budget cycles, California’s public employees have agreed to concessions that have saved state government hundreds of millions of dollars. We have suffered personal financial uncertainty from furloughs and pink slips, compounded by the devastating effects of an economy wrecked by Wall Street. We serve the public for pay that sometimes pales in comparison to what we might earn in the private sector. And the billions of dollars we spend in our local communities are vital to the economy.

We support your budget proposal and will continue to work with you and legislative leaders to help balance the state budget. But we implore you not to buy into the myths and falsehoods behind new efforts by some Republican lawmakers to undermine the state’s collective bargaining process and deprive public service workers of retirement security.

A host of inaccuracies have cast a dark cloud over public pensions. Claims that pension costs will bankrupt state government are flat wrong; California’s entire contribution to retirement for state employees is less than five percent of the state budget. Meanwhile, headlines blaring that pension plans are headed for Armageddon are unsubstantiated. CalPERS has earned back more than $70 billion since the financial crisis and the System’s funding status is estimated near 70 percent. The state of California pays less as a percentage of payroll for pensions today than it did in 1980.

Just as we have worked with lawmakers to help fill the state’s gaping budget hole, we support reasonable approaches to clamp down on fraud and abuse in California’s pension system. Yet let’s be clear that less than one percent of retirees have pensions above $100,000; the average CalPERS pension is about $25,000 per year. Half of CalPERS retirees receive $16,000 per year or less in benefits. Unlike the private sector, many public employees do not receive Social Security, making their pensions their sole source of retirement income, other than savings.

California public employees already pay 7 to 10 percent toward their pensions. We want to be able to focus on what matters most: Providing a fair and livable wage and retirement for the people who serve California. We respectfully ask that you consider these facts, and the gravity of the consequences of ill-conceived proposals to dismantle California’s pension system. Doing so would be a mistake beyond comprehension not only to state workers, but to California’s entire economy and every Californian that deserves a secure retirement.”

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Dave Low is Chairman of CHCRS, which represents 1.5 million teachers, firefighters, police, school employees, employees, and other state workers and retirees.

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