The on-going controversy about public employee pension benefits impacts elected officials too because most of them make certain they receive the same, or better, benefits. Many taxpayers question whether those they elect should be receiving taxpayer funded retirement benefits for their elected office service. Some politicians, recognizing a hot button issue when they see it, have seized on this issue to try and convince the taxpayers they are responsive to their concern.
Under the guise of trying to minimize taxpayer cost, on February 28 three of the five Orange County Supervisors voted to put a proposal on the June ballot in Orange County that would mandate that all future Supervisors must join the county retirement system, known as OCERS. This mandate would include a requirement that the Supervisors must accept the least costly retirement option offered by the County – this is the pension limiting carrot designed to entice voters to support what appears on the June 5 ballot as Measure B.
In the sample ballot that arrived last week the written Impartial Analysis by County Counsel says that under current law the County Supervisors “may elect to become members of the Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS)”. The analysis goes on to say that if Measure B is approved by a majority of the voters that vote on the measure, future Supervisors “must elect to enroll in OCERS and must choose the minimum pension option which is the1.62% at 65 retirement benefit.” So, the language of “may elect to become members” of the retirement system becomes “must elect to enroll”.
The message the proponents of this ballot item present that it is intended to force future Supervisors to choose the least expensive retirement alternative offered by OCERS, thereby protecting taxpayers from the costs of more expensive options including some which may not even exist today. However, the way I read this ballot item is that if the voters approve it the Supervisors would no longer have the least taxpayer costly option – that of no retirement benefit at all – even though two present Supervisors reportedly have chosen the no retirement benefit option.
So, if Measure B passes, all future Supervisors must join the retirement system. If it does not pass, then Supervisors will apparently have the option to continue to join or not join the county retirement system, including selecting from a more expensive option. Such an option requires each Supervisor to make a decision – a decision that is open to public scrutiny.
Will the voters decide to force future Supervisors to enroll in the county retirement system and accept a retirement benefit, or will they decide that the current no retirement option the Supervisors have is just fine? If the voters approve Measure B will future Supervisors explain away why they are accepting a retirement benefit at all as a mandate of the voters over which they have no choice? If the voters disapprove, will each future Supervisor be more accountable to their constituents about whether or not they receive a retirement benefit at all?
If there truly is a goal among the Supervisors to cut costs, why are the over two dozen serve at the pleasure appointees on the staff of the Supervisors not included in Measure B? Many of them are themselves political operatives and/or even elected officials in other government entities, yet they are to be left with a full choice of county retirement options. How about a ballot measure that says no Supervisor will be entitled to a county retirement plan of any kind? Or limiting their multi-million dollar office budgets and numerous staff? Millions of dollars a year could be saved if these changes were implemented.
Think about this one carefully, and be cautious about falling for the concept of punishing the Supervisors by preventing them from enrolling in any county retirement plan except the least costly one, especially when opportunities for significantly greater savings are left out of the Measure entirely. Forcing them to take a county retirement is no solution. This ballot item seems to be a diversionary tactic that is designed to assure that all future Supervisors will receive a county retirement benefit while sidestepping other opportunities for savings from the Supervisorial suites. Is that what we voters really want, or do we want real comprehensive reform from the Supervisors and their personal multi-million dollar taxpayer funded budgets?