Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Not Even Retirement Gets A Rest

My old boss Tom Sneddon, the former DA of Santa Barbara County, used to say that if you had a close case, the best time to take it to trial was right around the time property tax payments were due. The theory being that jurors, who were more than likely honked off by having just written a big check to pick up their share of the tab for local government services, were less likely to give thieving criminals the benefit of any doubt.

I can't help but wonder if that same line of thinking is what is behind the timing of the latest crusade that the Santa Barbara News-Press is carrying on its opinion pages against the "bloated salaries and pension benefits" received by city and county employees.

With last Friday being the deadline to pay the second installment of your property tax bill and tomorrow being the last day to file your income tax return, there's plenty of taxpayer anger out there to capitalize on.

The News-Press has hardly let a day go by of late without trying to incite a populist revolt against public employees. Last week, it was the high-priced city workers who were getting drubbed by the paper. On Monday, it was people who have retired from employment with Santa Barbara County who are the newest enemies of the State.

And yes, I fall into that last category. (Nearly 25 years with the County thank you.) Although the amount I receive every month from county retirement wouldn't land me on anyone's list of the most highly paid.

Of course, a defined-benefit retirement plan like the county offers (in which the monthly payment the employee is to receive in the future is predetermined and not affected by fluctuations in the market as 401(k) plans are) is about as hard to come by these days as a hosted bar. In other words, these types of retirement plans are headed for the endangered species list.

That didn't stop Wendy McCaw, who oversees an endangered specie herself, a newspaper, from making a case for reducing civil service pensions. And the examples cited in the editorial as opportunities for abuse, were those of two former department heads, whose situations are hardly characteristic of the typical retiree.

Sometimes it seems as though Wendy won't be happy until every public employee is underpaid and every government retiree is impecunious. In other words, if Wendy had her way, us retirees would all be working as greeters at Walmart.

In a world full of "no-host bars," at least leave me enough money so I can buy myself a drink.
© 2009 by Craig Smith and www.craigsmithsblog.com