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Friday, September 28, 2012

Charter -- or Legislature -- or Committee?

Earlier we found that public employee labor organizations are likely to view the Charter as problematic. They’re the ones pointing fingers and crying, “It’s a dangerous charter, it leaves too much unsaid, it’s scary, it will take away rights . . .  

Do labor unions actually have much power? After all, it’s primarily the CM4RG group that does the anti-charter speaking. And sings protest songs. Not much clout, there.

Citizens vs. Unions

Well, courts have to decide if the employee unions are more powerful than the citizens in San Diego! Employee unions sued to block a ballot measure. They believe that 145,000 county citizens shouldn't be able to place a measure that affected their members on the ballot until the union officers were consulted!

How about in Orange County? 

You can build it big

Well, you have to understand that pension spiking is still OK in Orange and a few other counties. Members can save up their vacation time and special benefits pay until their last year, and then use the total to compute retirement benefits. That’s why some retire at higher pay than they ever earned while they were working. Would anyone willingly give up a $100,000 retirement?

You can bet they’ll use every bit of influence they can to grow the benefits, not decrease them. Is this a big problem, then?

What happens in other counties

It’s difficult to get hard numbers for large counties such as Orange County (which isn’t a surprise), but data from a two smaller counties (that couldn't obfuscate and block fast enough) might suggest the extent of this problem. According to the Daily Pilot,

In Ventura County, where the pension system is underfunded by $761 million, 84% of the retirees receiving more than $100,000 a year are receiving more than they did on the job. In Kern County, 77% of retirees with pensions greater than $100,000 a year are getting more now than they did before.
There are numerous ways to spike salaries . . . in fact; there are 60 categories of payments that Ventura County employees can convert to cash, and then to higher retirements.
Don't steal his check
Can we cut back the retirements? Nope, the benefits are considered contractual – they're promises. There’s some question about the effects of a complete bankruptcy but I don’t think we want to search for those answers in Costa Mesa.
This also addresses the crocodile tears of those who tell you about the poor, hard-working mechanic finally nearing retirement, or the gardener who is depending on his retirement, earned over 30 years of hard, manual labor in high temperatures. Like all present employees their retirement benefits won’t be affected a bit by the Charter.
Will the State help us
So, if we aren't going to renege on our agreements with present employees, can the State help us stay solvent? Maybe.
The Governor would like to have salaries averaged for three years to compute retirement, or maybe to figure the retirement based only on regular pay. Or something. And, bills for that might be passed by the State Legislature. Or not.  And, if they’re passed, they may then be amended. Or not.
Or help ourselves
Costa Mesa can take control of the outpouring of our funds and prevent future abuses and excesses – without Sacramento’s OK. First we pass the Charter. Then, if we want to change the benefits for future employees, we vote, and before we can change the benefits again – we vote again. It’s strictly up to us, the folks who pay the bills. But only under the Charter.
But they said they weren't when I wrote my check
A lot of the “monster under the bed” Charter warnings from the three anti-M candidates echo the union script. Wait: didn't candidates Harold Weitzberg, John Stephens and Sandy Genis go out of their way repeatedly to assure us that they are not supported by big labor? Then, why do their warnings sound like they come from the unions’?
Well, the Orange County Federation of Labor, the local arm of the AFL-CIO, and the United Food and Commercial Workers 324 have endorsed these candidates. Their meetings and newsletters promote the anti-M’s. So, if “not supported by the labor unions” means they haven’t received a paycheck – yet, maybe their assertions are true. But, paychecks aren't the only way labor supports – or buys – candidates.
It's happened before
Recall the last Council election. Do you remember that labor organizations paid about $12,000 for printing and distribution of campaign materials to elect a currently-sitting Council member, , according to the Pilot.  “I'm not supported by the unions” didn't mean that the unions didn't endorse and finance a candidate then, either.
The articles and outrage about that were hidden by the noise focused on the police officers’ dragging anti-candidate signs behind patrol cars and harassing a Council Member’s restaurant patrons. So, the endorsement and financial support weren't as noticed and protested.
Who cares
But why do we care how much the employees get when they retire, anyway?
Simply enough, because we pay the bills and money is limited. Paying the costs of excessive pensions eats up the money we can use for services and infrastructure in Costa Mesa.
What is infrastructure as used here? It means roads (that’s the spaces between potholes in some areas, what we drive over while hitting potholes in others), alleys, lighting, parks and sports playing-fields – basically the stuff that makes living in Costa Mesa a pleasure. Services, of course, are the fire and police services, graffiti removal, and so forth – what keeps us safer and more comfortable in Costa Mesa.
What do we want in Costa Mesa
So, someone has to decide whether to spend our limited money either improving roads and alleys, or increasing retirement benefits. That can be us using the Charter to control Costa Mesa’s expenditures in accordance with Costa Mesa’s needs – and our existing laws.
Or we can hope Sacraments gets some changes made soon. Real changes, not eyewash like the bill Governor Brown just signed. Or we can get a committee together to develop guidelines about writing a new charter, heck; maybe they’ll even sing a song about it. And wait. And wait. And maybe get a charter, perhaps a much weaker charter, someday.
It’s up to us.

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