VCStar Gets it Right on Pension Reform

Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown persuaded the Legislature to approve cost-cutting pension changes for new public employees at the state and local levels in California.

The governor knew that pension reform could serve as evidence of a new sense of fiscal responsibility in the state Capitol. And he understood how necessary it was before voters would support Proposition 30, the November ballot measure that increased sales and income taxes.

Proposition 30 was a crucial step to get the state out of its yearly budget-deficit crisis; without the additional tax revenue, Sacramento politicians would be in a severe bind.

Surprisingly, the Legislature followed the governor’s lead and passed pension reforms. Voters went along and passed Proposition 30.

Now it’s time to implement the state pension reform law at the county level, and The Star is dismayed at the business-as-usual approach that’s on display in Ventura County.

The Ventura County Board of Retirement, in a narrowly divided vote Monday, could not bring itself to carry out the state law’s requirement regarding the compensation that counts toward a pension.

The law says compensation counted toward pensions should be limited to “base pay” for employees hired after Jan. 1.

The law prohibits various add-on payments from going into that calculation, including uniform and vehicle allowances, cashed-out vacation time and most forms of overtime.

But the law does not specifically name hundreds of other add-on payments that also can boost employees’ pay dramatically, such as longevity bonuses, assignment differentials for working at night or in hazardous duty, and bonuses for advanced degrees and certifications.

Instead of affirming the obvious point that “base pay” excludes those kinds of add-on payments, the county Board of Retirement sided with organized labor’s view that the add-on payments should count toward pensions.

What’s going on with the board? Add-ons are exactly that, and the law plainly states that base pay must be used for pension calculations.

We are mystified by the board’s erroneous decision, but we are thankful it’s on hold for 60 days. That should give the board enough time to reflect on the gravity of its error and reverse its position to conform to state law and common sense.

Those who want higher pensions need to raise their base pay. Anything else is unacceptable.