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Publishing Pension Data Has Its Drawbacks

George Linn
Director of Public Relations, Retired Public Employees Association of California

It’s a good thing Calpers last week delayed a plan to post a database online displaying the specifics of all the pensions it administers. That delay should become permanent.

Posting unvarnished numbers like that without context would not inform the public, it would only open hardworking middle-class pubic servants to another round of attacks from Wall Street critics looking for their own political gain.

Let me explain what I mean. The details of pension payouts are already public information. Any Californian can find out how much a public servant is getting paid in their retirement. If they ask, here’s what they’d see:

  • The average public servant in our state retires on just $26,000 a year.
  • Public school teachers don’t earn Social Security and earn most pensions — an average of just $3,300 per month after 30 years in the classroom.
  • Governor Brown’s pension reforms have dramatically reduced government employees’ compensation.

But here’s what that kind of database would fail to show:

  • Pension payouts’ positive impact on our state. Last year alone pension payments to retired public employees in California generated $26 billion of economic activity.
  • The health of our state’s major public employee pension funds. Just last week, Calpers just announced a 12.5 percent return on its investments over the 2012-13 fiscal year and Caltstrs earned 13.8 percent.
  • Public employees have done their part. In approximately 300 local jurisdictions throughout the state, public employee unions have increased their own pension contributions, foregone raises, endured pink slips, and dealt with increased workloads with fewer resources on hand. They agreed to those concessions appropriately at the bargaining table.

Californians have already said they believe public employees deserve the retirements they earn – teachers because they earn such small salaries and public safety workers because of the inherent dangers in their jobs. Public opinion polls show they strongly oppose further reducing current employees’ benefits.

So who exactly would benefit from a Calpers pension database being posted online? The answer: Wall Street. A new database would give wealthy investors who want to push average families out of defined-benefit pensions and into volatile investment accounts the ammo they need to launch a new wave of attacks.

Public employees don’t deserve another round of being beat down.

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