Monday, March 21, 2011

Anti-Public Employee Bandwagon Takes Detour Through Fantasyland

Am I the only one around here who thinks that Lanny Ebenstein, the de facto editorial writer for the News-Press, is bending the truth when it comes to public employee pensions?

For example, his guest opinion piece in Sunday's News-Press starts out by decrying "the ability of hundreds of thousands of California public employees to retire between the ages of 50 and 55 with pensions of 75 to 90 percent of their final and highest salary."

Of course, the only public employees in that category are "safety employees," basically police and firefighters. Ebenstein doesn't allude to that fact until nearly the end of his column leaving the reader with the impression that those generous pensions are available to all public employees.

I'll talk about what most public employees can expect in the way of pensions a little later, but first I want to talk about the police and firefighter pensions. Of course to retire at age 55 with 90 percent of their salary, the police officer or firefighter would have to have 30 years of service under their belt, meaning they had been on the job since age 25. It sounds like Ebenstein, in advocating for longer years of service before eligibility for full retirement benefits, wants our police chasing criminals and our firefighters rushing into burning buildings until they are well into their sixties.

I don't know about you, but if I've got a burglar rattling the sliding glass patio door at my house at 3 a.m. I want the officer who responds to my call to 9-1-1 to be relatively young and agile and not a member of that elite group of officers that is otherwise known as "sexagenarian security."

We don't expect NFL quarterbacks to be throwing bullets at age 55 so why should we be expecting police officers to fire them when they are that old? There are some occupations that require a level of fitness and quick reaction times. Safety retirement is merely a recognition that the people who make their living by engaging in work that is risky aren't expected to have the same career longevity as the rest of us. Does Ebenstein really want to take that away or is he just trying to promote the perception that it is every public employee who enjoys that benefit?

As for the average public employee who is not a safety member, he or she doesn't get the generous retirement benefits that Ebenstein is yelling bloody murder about by merely sticking around long enough to have a cup of coffee. For a non-safety public employee to retire with roughly 60 percent of their salary requires that they put in 30 years on the job. So, yes, if they started young enough they could retire at 55 or 57.

The misinformation that Ebenstein is putting out is disappointing because he has been around here a long time, appears to be a straight arrow (at least from the looks of that photo that accompanies his columns) and seems like a nice enough guy. "Fast" and "loose" are probably not words that would be used to describe any aspect of Ebenstein's life at this point. Except when it comes to his ability to be straightforward about public employee pensions.
© 2011 by Craig Smith and