Not to be outdone by one damaging report after another, CalPERS Responds, a site that attempts to spin and dispel any negative news about the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS), rails against negative news in the media, including the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times. But this time it has “gone personal” by branding Contra Costa Times reporter Daniel Borenstein, as a misguided “crusader” who purposely “misleads” his readers.
It’s an open secret that Borenstein has, over the last couple years, made it his business to jump into the chili of the Contra Costa County public employee pension system to expose the duplicity, waste, unsustainability, and fraud it vigorously defends, especially pension spiking.
Witness one of the most recent Borenstien articles appearing in the Times.
Below see the counter argument from CalPERS Responds:
Dan Borenstein is one of the few columnists that understands many of the complexities of public pensions but his personal bias and crusade against public employee pensions once again got the best of him, thus misleading your readers, in his January 11 column (“CalPERS planning to gut a key cost-control provision of new pension law”).
He attacks CalPERS preliminary interpretation of the new pension law that went into effect January 1 and the types of compensation that can be used toward calculating pensions. Contrary to Borenstein’s snide comment that CalPERS operates “in a parallel universe,” our interpretation of this provision is the agreed upon intent of those who wrote, passed and signed the bill into law. What he neglects to tell readers – a fact which CalPERS explicitly shared with him during multiple attempts to try to help him get the facts straight, which he nevertheless failed to do – is that during the legislative process, CalPERS worked with the legislative committee consultants to answer their questions and enable them to write the bill according to their intent. They agree that the intent was to eliminate some special compensation but not all of it. Further, as we prepared our preliminary interpretation in recent weeks, we based it on conversations with officials in the legislature and the administration. In spite of Borenstein’s most fervent personal desires, the legislature’s intent was never to limit pension calculations to base pay only. Additionally, CalPERS will seek broad public input on the issue of compensation before any interpretations or regulations are finalized.
Borenstein’s view that our interpretation of the law will lead to pension spiking is both shortsighted and wrong. The abuse of pension spiking, by significantly increasing an employee’s base pay in the final year of their career, has been addressed in changes CalPERS instituted years ago for public agencies and school employees. In fact many of the items specifically called out in the new legislation have not been reportable to CalPERS. Pension spiking is also addressed in the new law through a cap on compensation that can be used to calculate a new member’s pension as well as requirements to use the average of an employee’s highest salary over three years of their career for public agencies and schools.
Lastly, Borenstein is again wrong when he condescendingly claims that CalPERS “absurd interpretation of the new law will … erode untold billions of dollars of savings that … CalPERS previously claimed the new law would produce.” The only absurd interpretation here is Borenstein’s complete ignorance or disregard of what CalPERS actually said in our cost analysis of the bill. CalPERS never claimed that the restrictions on what is included in pensionable compensation would result in significant savings, let alone “untold billions.” Instead, CalPERS wrote in our cost analysis: “We have not reviewed or been able to assess the potential impact of any such changes. To the extent that savings are realized as a result of additional restrictions on pensionable compensation, the savings will be greater than quoted in this analysis.”
CalPERS is committed to implement and administer the laws as they were enacted. Borenstein has done nothing more than rush to judgment and yell fire. If his readers believe his rhetoric, they will likely only get burned by the misinformation.