CCCERA: an enemy of the people

At a recent discussion of the state of Contra Costa County finances and pension liability payments, Supervisor Susan Bonilla, a Democrat primary candidate for the 11th Assembly District, made it clear that she wanted the option of using “funds promised for reducing the county’s unfunded post-retirement benefits, or OPEB, liability to help fund operations of key County departments.” There is no doubt that a majority of Bonilla’s colleagues, especially Mary Piepho and John Gioia, are silently hoping for any excuse to break the board’s recent promise of paying down pension liability.

The nuclear option of raiding the OPEB set-aside as a source of cash for day-to-day operations(!) of the Fire Department or Probation services is a financial Rubicon the BOS should not cross without thinking seriously about the consequences of reneging on its primary constitutional fiduciary obligation and promise to taxpayers to reduce Contra Costa’s retiree health care obligations. Yet such another cave-in to powerful union interests would break any remaining bond county taxpayers have with the machine politics in Martinez where the governing class including union leaders completely lord it over the governed and any fig leaf of fiscal sanity.

This critical state of affairs comes at a time when the Contra Costa County Employees Retirement Association (CCCERA), has become California’s poster child for its embarrassing policies that encourage pension spiking. CCCERA has just refused to change policies that allow a fire chief making $185,000 per year to boost his lifetime pension at the age of 50 to $241,000. Dan Borenstein of the times quotes Bob Palmer, interim executive director of California’s Retirement Systems, as marking CCCERA’s practices are “really egregious…an embarrassment…bad public policy.”

Instead of putting a stop to this scam, that the County Supervisors clearly indicate it cannot afford, CCCERA voted to allow 4,000 current retirees since 1997 and an additional 11,500 current employees to continue to receive outrageous pensions spiked with a multitude of ILLEGAL add-ons.

Of course, the County must fund essential services as best it can. But it’s also time for the Contra Costa County Employees Retirement Association, CCCERA, as the financial mouthpiece of its membership, to step up to the plate.

cccera enemy of the peopleCounty employees must finally have some skin in the game or be exposed as the comical criminal Blue Meanie from the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, that consumes everything in sight, and ultimately itself. No jobs, no services, no pensions.

Simply put, CCCERA has become an enemy of the people. It has become a predatory class feeding off the commonwealth of the citizens of Contra Costa County. The Board of Supervisors and State legislative elites, who rely on CCCERA membership support for reelection term after term, have also lost any credibility, failing on its promises to perform its legal financial due diligence for the sake of ever more concessions to public employee unions forcing taxpayers to once again pick up such an exorbitant tab.

This must stop.

If the lawmakers, the BOS, and the CCCERA don’t step up, taxpayer revolt and bankruptcy leading to a complete meltdown of county government are rapidly becoming the more probable alternatives.

Since the sitting Supervisors—including one running for the legislature, and another supervisor hopeful—are counting on union support for their campaigns, a broad-based citizen action committee must be formed to sue CCCERA to comply with much needed reforms. CCCERA is NOT OWED something illegal. It’s OWN COUNSEL says CCCERA is in violation of state appeals court decisions concerning pension spiking. CCCERA must finally have some skin in the game and face a court ruling.

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Comments

  1. says

    Calpers was100%+ funded a few years ago. It is 87% funded now. In the near future it will probably be 100% funded again. I paid in my cash. 75% of the money comes from Calpers investments. What’s to worry?

  2. Tough Love says

    Government employee unions are a CANCER on society.

    Taxpayers, JOB ONE must be to do whatever it takes to eliminate these unions, as they are destroying America.

  3. Tough Love says

    Taxpayers, please see my last comment, and in case you are waivering in agreement with me, let’s look at the math behind what THEY get and what YOU get:

    ” If you “do the math” ….

    The total “value” of benefits at retirement is the present value of all future payments, be they pensions benefits, healthcare premium subsidies, or anything else. Some of these future cash flows are definitively known at the time of retirement (e.g., fixed monthly pensions), and others need to be estimated (e.g., healthcare premiums, the incremental value of future COLA pension increases, etc.). However, all of these future payments can be reasonably estimated (sometimes with several options such as the low, medium, and high liability estimates routinely provided by the Social Security Administration). Once all known and estimated future payments have been determined, they can be discounted to the point of retirement at an assumed interest rate and an assumed mortality rate (for those payments that cease upon death). The interest rate used in this calculation is very important, but actuaries routinely do calculations of this sort and the range of reasonable interest assumptions for this purpose is fairly narrow.

    The present value of all retirement pension and benefit payments can be looked at as the answer to the question ….. How much would an insurance company charge in a single payment at the time of retirement to take on the guaranteed responsibility to make all future payments in lieu of the former employer.

    If we examine two 30-year service, age 55 workers (one Private Sector & one a Policeman or Fireman) making $100,000 in base pay + $20,000 in overtime at retirement, what would these present values be?

    Being somewhat versed in the subject of employee benefits I’ll describe the “likely” pensions & retirement benefits afforded each and then estimate their present values.

    Let’s assume the Private Sector worker is one of the few lucky enough to still have the older traditional-style defined benefit pension plan, and does NOT contribute towards its cost (common practice in Private Sector plans). With 30 years of service and with a typical formula that takes into account wages above and below Social Security “covered compensation”, this worker would likely receive about 40% of final 3-year average pay at normal retirement age, and overtime would NOT be included in benefits-bearing compensation.

    Here’s how the Present value would be calculated …

    Assume $95,000 is the AVERAGE of the last 3 year’s base salary, so 40% x 95,000 = $38,000. But this would be payable only if the employee waited until his plan’s “normal retirement age”. Let’s assume that his plan’s normal retirement age is 60. Since he will start collecting his pension 5 years early, there would be an “actuarial reduction” of 4 to 6% per year (just like Social Security applies when someone starts collecting early at age 62). Let’s assume the yearly reduction is 5%. So … we now have an annual pension of $38,000 x .75 = 28,500.

    Now, to convert this to a “present value” we need to apply a life annuity factor (which incorporates the interest and mortality discounts discussed earlier). For someone retiring at age 55 this “factor” would be a multiplier of about 15. So … the present value of this worker’s pension is $28,500 x 15 = $427,500.

    We will also assume there are no post-retirement healthcare benefits, as such benefits are VERY rare in the Private Sector.

    Now let’s calculate the present value of the Policeman’s pension & benefits.

    The pension formula for the policeman is often 3% of the last year’s salary (including overtime) per year of service and with no “actuarial reduction” for collecting benefits at age 55 (unlike for the private Sector worker). So … we have ($100,000+$20,000)x.03×30 =$108,000. But, we’re not done …

    The policeman’s pension includes a provision for post-retirement COLA increases (while essentially NO Private Sector plans do so). Although this may surprise the reader, the “value” of this added benefit is VERY significant. Even with a modest long-term inflation assumption of 3%/yr, the addition of a COLA benefit for life increases the value of the pension by at least 50%. Hence, the levelized annual pension (with the COLA) is now $108,000×1.5=$162,000.

    Using the same annuity factor of 15 (as used in the Private Sector workup above), we have a present value of 15x$162,000=$2,430,000.

    But wait, we’re still not done (2 more items to adjust for) …

    First, in fairness, the policeman contributes a percentage of his pay toward his pension (unlike the Private Sector worker), and the accumulated value (at interest) of these payments at retirement should be subtracted from the above $2,430,000 for a fair comparison. For this policeman whose final total pay was $120,000, I have calculated the accumulated value at retirement date of his contributions to be roughly $400,000. Hence the present value of this officer’s pension (offset by the accumulated vale of his contributions) is $2,430,000-$400,000=$2,030,000

    Second, this officer gets free or heavily subsidized retiree healthcare for himself AND his family. Since he is not eligible for Medicare until age 65, his healthcare premiums are very expensive and are expected to increase annually at 8-12%, triple the rate of regular (non-medical care) inflation. The present value of this benefit and the post Medicare age healthcare subsidy is roughly $500,000.

    Hence, the present value of this officer’s pension AND retiree healthcare benefit is $2,030,000+$500,000=$2,530,000.

    Now, let compare the present value for these 2 workers making the SAME pay, working for the SAME number of years, and retiring at the SAME age.

    The Private Sector worker’s EMPLOYER-PROVIDED retirement benefits are worth (as a present value on the date of retirement) $427,500.

    The Policeman’s TAXPAYER-PROVIDED retirement benefits are worth (as a present value on the date of retirement) $2,530,000.

    The crisis associated with funding Civil Servant Pensions and benefits is NOT a revenue shortfall issue. It is CLEARLY one of EXCESSIVELY GENEROUS pensions and benefits as the above calculations demonstrate.

    For 2 similarly situated workers (in pay, years of service, and retirement age) the Policeman’s package of retirement benefits costs the TAXPAYERS almost SIX TIMES what the typical Private Sector employer is willing to pay.

    Clearly, if the Private Sector employer provided the same benefits to his workers that the policeman receives, his company would likely go bankrupt in short order.

    These unreasonable benefits have been provided due to a political structure that rewards politicians for “giving-away-the-store” of not their own, but TAXPAYERS’ money, for personal gain. This “gain” may simply be to feed their ego, garner the union support needed to get re-elected, or perhaps worse … for current or future personal financial gain.

    In any event, the current situation is without doubt unsustainable and without MAJOR REDUCTIONS to the benefits provided CURRENT (not just NEW) public employees, towns, cities, and states will be filing bankruptcy with increasing frequency.

    Unfortunately, since difficult change is delayed and delayed and delayed to avoid the confrontation (with very aggressive unions), important public services will suffer tremendously until action is FINALLY taken.

    I’m sure there will be Civil Servants (with vested interest in the status quo) that will say my figures are wrong. Estimates are necessary, and small variations in assumptions will change the figures to a minor degree, but the final relationship is quite accurate …. TAXPAYERS are forced (via their taxes) to pay almost SIX times as much as the Private Sector employer is willing to pay.

    By-the-way … any qualified actuary can verify the reasonableness of my figures and conclusions, …. and I would welcome the actuary who offers to do so ……

    Bye-the-way ……… I didn’t mention it above, but it’s worth a comment …… Civil Servants often take advantage of what’s commonly called “spiking” to unfairly boost one’s pension just before retirement. This takes many forms: large last minute promotions and/or raises, excessive/unusual overtime, cashout of sick and/or vacation days with the payout included in “compensation” for pension calculation purposes, or inclusion in “compensation” of miscellaneous “allowances” (housing, vehicle, parking, uniform, etc.).

    None of this is EVER allowed in Private Sector employer-sponsored plans (employers are spending THEIR OWN money, not TAXPAYER’S, and would never be so foolish). For every $10,000 of “spiking” that works its way into the above Policeman’s “compensation”, it costs the TAXPAYERS an additional $10,000x.03×30×1.5×15=$202,500 !

  4. Tough Love says

    (see my last comment) … and Taxpayers, in case you are waivering, let’s look at the “math” behing what THEY get and YOU get:

    ” If you “do the math” ….

    The total “value” of benefits at retirement is the present value of all future payments, be they pensions benefits, healthcare premium subsidies, or anything else. Some of these future cash flows are definitively known at the time of retirement (e.g., fixed monthly pensions), and others need to be estimated (e.g., healthcare premiums, the incremental value of future COLA pension increases, etc.). However, all of these future payments can be reasonably estimated (sometimes with several options such as the low, medium, and high liability estimates routinely provided by the Social Security Administration). Once all known and estimated future payments have been determined, they can be discounted to the point of retirement at an assumed interest rate and an assumed mortality rate (for those payments that cease upon death). The interest rate used in this calculation is very important, but actuaries routinely do calculations of this sort and the range of reasonable interest assumptions for this purpose is fairly narrow.

    The present value of all retirement pension and benefit payments can be looked at as the answer to the question ….. How much would an insurance company charge in a single payment at the time of retirement to take on the guaranteed responsibility to make all future payments in lieu of the former employer.

    If we examine two 30-year service, age 55 workers (one Private Sector & one a Policeman or Fireman) making $100,000 in base pay + $20,000 in overtime at retirement, what would these present values be?

    Being somewhat versed in the subject of employee benefits I’ll describe the “likely” pensions & retirement benefits afforded each and then estimate their present values.

    Let’s assume the Private Sector worker is one of the few lucky enough to still have the older traditional-style defined benefit pension plan, and does NOT contribute towards its cost (common practice in Private Sector plans). With 30 years of service and with a typical formula that takes into account wages above and below Social Security “covered compensation”, this worker would likely receive about 40% of final 3-year average pay at normal retirement age, and overtime would NOT be included in benefits-bearing compensation.

    Here’s how the Present value would be calculated …

    Assume $95,000 is the AVERAGE of the last 3 year’s base salary, so 40% x 95,000 = $38,000. But this would be payable only if the employee waited until his plan’s “normal retirement age”. Let’s assume that his plan’s normal retirement age is 60. Since he will start collecting his pension 5 years early, there would be an “actuarial reduction” of 4 to 6% per year (just like Social Security applies when someone starts collecting early at age 62). Let’s assume the yearly reduction is 5%. So … we now have an annual pension of $38,000 x .75 = 28,500.

    Now, to convert this to a “present value” we need to apply a life annuity factor (which incorporates the interest and mortality discounts discussed earlier). For someone retiring at age 55 this “factor” would be a multiplier of about 15. So … the present value of this worker’s pension is $28,500 x 15 = $427,500.

    We will also assume there are no post-retirement healthcare benefits, as such benefits are VERY rare in the Private Sector.

    Now let’s calculate the present value of the Policeman’s pension & benefits.

    The pension formula for the policeman is often 3% of the last year’s salary (including overtime) per year of service and with no “actuarial reduction” for collecting benefits at age 55 (unlike for the private Sector worker). So … we have ($100,000+$20,000)x.03×30 =$108,000. But, we’re not done …

    The policeman’s pension includes a provision for post-retirement COLA increases (while essentially NO Private Sector plans do so). Although this may surprise the reader, the “value” of this added benefit is VERY significant. Even with a modest long-term inflation assumption of 3%/yr, the addition of a COLA benefit for life increases the value of the pension by at least 50%. Hence, the levelized annual pension (with the COLA) is now $108,000×1.5=$162,000.

    Using the same annuity factor of 15 (as used in the Private Sector workup above), we have a present value of 15x$162,000=$2,430,000.

    But wait, we’re still not done (2 more items to adjust for) …

    First, in fairness, the policeman contributes a percentage of his pay toward his pension (unlike the Private Sector worker), and the accumulated value (at interest) of these payments at retirement should be subtracted from the above $2,430,000 for a fair comparison. For this policeman whose final total pay was $120,000, I have calculated the accumulated value at retirement date of his contributions to be roughly $400,000. Hence the present value of this officer’s pension (offset by the accumulated vale of his contributions) is $2,430,000-$400,000=$2,030,000

    Second, this officer gets free or heavily subsidized retiree healthcare for himself AND his family. Since he is not eligible for Medicare until age 65, his healthcare premiums are very expensive and are expected to increase annually at 8-12%, triple the rate of regular (non-medical care) inflation. The present value of this benefit and the post Medicare age healthcare subsidy is roughly $500,000.

    Hence, the present value of this officer’s pension AND retiree healthcare benefit is $2,030,000+$500,000=$2,530,000.

    Now, let compare the present value for these 2 workers making the SAME pay, working for the SAME number of years, and retiring at the SAME age.

    The Private Sector worker’s EMPLOYER-PROVIDED retirement benefits are worth (as a present value on the date of retirement) $427,500.

    The Policeman’s TAXPAYER-PROVIDED retirement benefits are worth (as a present value on the date of retirement) $2,530,000.

    The crisis associated with funding Civil Servant Pensions and benefits is NOT a revenue shortfall issue. It is CLEARLY one of EXCESSIVELY GENEROUS pensions and benefits as the above calculations demonstrate.

    For 2 similarly situated workers (in pay, years of service, and retirement age) the Policeman’s package of retirement benefits costs the TAXPAYERS almost SIX TIMES what the typical Private Sector employer is willing to pay.

    Clearly, if the Private Sector employer provided the same benefits to his workers that the policeman receives, his company would likely go bankrupt in short order.

    These unreasonable benefits have been provided due to a political structure that rewards politicians for “giving-away-the-store” of not their own, but TAXPAYERS’ money, for personal gain. This “gain” may simply be to feed their ego, garner the union support needed to get re-elected, or perhaps worse … for current or future personal financial gain.

    In any event, the current situation is without doubt unsustainable and without MAJOR REDUCTIONS to the benefits provided CURRENT (not just NEW) public employees, towns, cities, and states will be filing bankruptcy with increasing frequency.

    Unfortunately, since difficult change is delayed and delayed and delayed to avoid the confrontation (with very aggressive unions), important public services will suffer tremendously until action is FINALLY taken.

    I’m sure there will be Civil Servants (with vested interest in the status quo) that will say my figures are wrong. Estimates are necessary, and small variations in assumptions will change the figures to a minor degree, but the final relationship is quite accurate …. TAXPAYERS are forced (via their taxes) to pay almost SIX times as much as the Private Sector employer is willing to pay.

    By-the-way … any qualified actuary can verify the reasonableness of my figures and conclusions, …. and I would welcome the actuary who offers to do so ……

    Bye-the-way ……… I didn’t mention it above, but it’s worth a comment …… Civil Servants often take advantage of what’s commonly called “spiking” to unfairly boost one’s pension just before retirement. This takes many forms: large last minute promotions and/or raises, excessive/unusual overtime, cashout of sick and/or vacation days with the payout included in “compensation” for pension calculation purposes, or inclusion in “compensation” of miscellaneous “allowances” (housing, vehicle, parking, uniform, etc.).

    None of this is EVER allowed in Private Sector employer-sponsored plans (employers are spending THEIR OWN money, not TAXPAYER’S, and would never be so foolish). For every $10,000 of “spiking” that works its way into the above Policeman’s “compensation”, it costs the TAXPAYERS an additional $10,000x.03×30×1.5×15=$202,500 !

  5. Tough Love says

    DEAR Taxpayers …. do you need to hear ANYTHING else.

    Its WAY past time to RENEGE on ALL Pension & RETIREE healthcare “promises”.

  6. Ken Hambrick says

    It’s incredible to me that in the face of what they are doing is clearly illegal that CCCERA would continue to break the law.

    Maybe when the county has to write a big refund check to Chevron for its over-assessment that will help change CCCERA’s mind. Obviously being a lawbreaker means nothing to them.

    • says

      There is no incentive or pain for CCCERA to behave any differently, Ken. Everyone is hurting but them. They don’t have to be economical or think of the community because the Board of Supervisors and State law has isolated and insulated public employees from the economic realities the rest of the community lives under. Those pigs are more equal than the rest of us, to paraphrase Orwell’s Animal Farm.

      This is why I mention them having no skin in the game of having to adjust to tough times because they are so protected.

      The community, apparently without the help of its electeds who are bought off by the public employee unions, needs to come together to sue CCCERA to do be a law abiding organization instead of flaunting its current outlaw status, even if it means recalculating pensions and ongoing adjustments since 1997 when spiking was deemed illegal by the courts.

      If a business was doing this the legislature would be all over it.

  7. Lois says

    I have always said that public employees should never be able to form unions. Why? Because all government jobs are welfare jobs…they produce nothing. You have to produce something to make something. Why should the private citizen pay for nothing? I have no choice who is hired for public employment.

    Government keeps growing, and growing through its employees. We have become less of a producing nation, one of less worth. We have lost creativity. Who are the big losers? The private and public employees.