Home>Articles>California Pensioners Taking the State Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire 

Downtown Sacramento from the Capitol building. (Photo: Norcal_kt, Shutterstock)

California Pensioners Taking the State Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire 

The disastrous California Public Employees’ Retirement System hasn’t balanced its books since 2007

By Jared Whitley, January 17, 2023 1:42 pm

California is arguably the best thing that ever happened on planet Earth. From literal gold-seekers of the 19th century to Grapes of Wrath Okies, to Reagan-era business tycoons, California has long been where Americans and others went to make their fortunes. And they succeeded, with Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and other California institutions transforming our country and the world. 

But all that wealth, over time, is unsustainable. Antecedent generations of Californians created limitless riches, which has trickled down into institutional cultures of lethargic avarice. To quote Tyrion Lannister, a lifetime of outrageous wealth hasn’t taught them much about managing it.

There is perhaps no worse example of this than the state’s public pension crisis. 

By next near, more than half of California cities’ public safety payroll will go to cover pension obligations, according to the California League of Cities, with many cities spending one-fifth of their general fund budgets on pensions. Dozens of retired LA employees collect such generous retirements they exceed pension fund limits set by the Internal Revenue Service, according to the LA Times. 

The disastrous California Public Employees’ Retirement System hasn’t balanced its books since 2007, will soon demand cities double their payments, and has unfunded liabilities estimated at $1 trillion. 

And while it’s easy to imagine that this situation is the fault of lazy bureaucrats or corrupt higher ed administrators, it’s not entirely. Public safety retirees – who pull in an average annual pension of $108,000! – are just as guilty. 

You see, in a world where Americans have lost faith in almost all of our institutions, we still love firefighters. They fight fires, but never us. No firefighters have ever handed someone a ticket or used excessive force on a fire. So, their unions make valuable allies for politicians seeking campaign endorsements from firefighters, which allows those unions to exploit the taxpayer with unsustainable budgets.

The California Professional Firefighters (CPF) pulls in more than $40 million a year in dues, makes it rain with millions on lobbying and campaign contributions, then collects hefty returns. No wonder then that while yes Americans still love firefighters they hate firefighter unions. 

Because of this shell game, some public safety employees in California make even more than the governor, who collects just $210,000 per year. One such is example is the former Assistant Fire Chief who received a $1.3 million deferred retirement payment, in addition to his $247,000 pension. And year after year the highest-paid city employee is the Los Angeles fire captain. 

The LA fire department spent $817.4 million on payroll in 2022, which is a 2.4 percent increase from 2021. And just last month, they requested $904 for the 2023-2024 budget.  

One way the unions try to put a bandage on this is double-dipping the way they expense their services. Southern Marin Fire Protection District Ted Peterson recently advised on the CalChiefs podcast for public safety officers to “hang on to that reimbursement, that tax refund you’re going to get, because you’re going to get four of them” because they’re “going to get a million dollars for not doing anything except filling out some forms.” 

The state itself is getting in on the action. California State Plan Amendment 22-0015 aims to (deep breath) “establish a Public Provider Ground Emergency Medical Transportation Intergovernmental Transfer (PP-GEMT IGT) Program to provide an add-on increase to the Medi-Cal fee-for-service fee schedule rates for eligible GEMT services when provided by qualified public providers.”

In plain English, California would change their Medi-Cal payments methodology for ambulances and fire trucks to receive supplemental payments from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). In plainer English, it would help them swindle money from Medicaid to pay their ridiculous pensions.

This would exacerbate waste, fraud, and abuse rather than correct it. One hopes that CMS will reject SPA 22-0015 – which provides no enhanced services to Medicaid beneficiaries while plundering their coffers – and tell California to get its collective house in order. 

California’s unsustainable public pensions are the result of decades of graft, mismanagement, and greed, and there’s no silver bullet (or golden) – and if there were, Gov. Newsom would probably ban it under the state’s crazy gun laws.

This is long-term impact of state leaders who only think about short-term political gains, perhaps this is the outcome of term limits in the California Assembly. 

Local governments must push back on this kind of corruption rather than leaning into it. Otherwise, 50 years from now instead of the gold-seekers, Okies, and business tycoons who flocked to California, we’ll be talking about those who fled from it. 

Oh wait, we’re already doing that. 

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7 thoughts on “California Pensioners Taking the State Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire 

  1. I have two retired friends; one firefighter and the other a sheriff. The firefighter has a nearly 300K in total retirement benefits while the retire sheriff just over 100K. About 10 years ago, I talked to them about calPERS going bankrupt due to excessive pensions. The retired firefighter only stated that the benefits are earned and contracted. The sheriff’s opinion was that the pensions are way over stated even considering the risks of law enforcement. I understand there are inherit risks to these professions; however, life long pensions such as these are unreasonable.

  2. Newsom’s profiligate budget proposal fails to mention the over 1 trillion dollars in unfunded government pension liabilities that continues to grow. Don’t count on the Democrat super majority in the legislature to take any action on this problem?

  3. As someone who is in the CalPERS “system”, I have zero confidence that I will ever be able to retire and even if I did that there would be any money left in CalPERS to pay for what pension I would be owed. Those of us who got hired after the golden years are left holding the bag for the “old timers” who got in while the golden goose was laying golden eggs in Sacramento.

  4. This is total mismanagement by CalPers, they could and still could raise the retirement contribution by the Employees , as well as the Employer. That should have been accomplished years back , to make up for that negligence now will cost the employer and employee big, There is also fact on how pensions are calculated. They should be calculated on a person regular stated salary, no overtime or holiday pay or bonuses, only the stated in writing annual salary of each position.

  5. “The disastrous California Public Employees’ Retirement System hasn’t balanced its books since 2007”

    ^^^ How in the h3ll can this pass a GASB audit??? FIFTEEN YEARS???

  6. If you’d ever witnessed, first hand, what firefighters do to protect homes and hillsides, in California, you wouldn’t question the salaries, or pensions, they “earn”. They put their lives on the line, without even thinking of the consequences, and deserve every penny, they make. I think they deserve, our thanks!

  7. In the 1970’s, when public employee unions became legal, another nail was put into the coffin of America.

    Much of public employee union money is laundered back to politicians, who send more money to unions, who send more money to politicians ad infinitum.

    You would think, with the myriad of regulations added to the fire code over the past 50 years, we would no longer have need for fireman.

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