Retirement Funding Chaos Seems to Abound

After months of efforts by newspapers and other so-called advocacy groups to obtain public sector retirement system payroll information, various lawsuits directed at one municipality or the other have resulted in a few court orders directing that the information be provided. The media has focused on those public sector retirees drawing $100,000 year or more, dubbing this the $ 100K club, as though we should be angry about someone receiving $100,000 a year but not $99,000 or less. In Orange County, the Register has eagerly made County of Orange retiree information available in its newspaper and its web site in an effort to sell newspapers and whip up support for its anti-government editorial philosophy.

Some might think the fat lady has sung regarding the release of this kind of public sector retiree payroll information. But wait, some government agencies still maintain they are not required to make such information available, and continue to say no. And, there is the County of Sacramento retirement system that was ordered by a Superior Court Judge to release the payroll information after a suit by some of the same media and self-appointed advocates, but has instead filed an appeal. At least one other county has filed an Amicus, supporting the appeal, and other public sector retirement systems are expected to join in. So, the fat lady has not yet sung (even though you have not heard anything about this in the Register).

What makes this issue a bit ironic is that the “public’s right to know” what public employees and retirees are being paid does not apparently apply to other expenditures of taxpayer funds, such as unemployment benefits, disability benefits, welfare and food stamps, free school lunches, and other government funded payments. Interesting that advocates citing the taxpayer’s right to know how taxpayer money is being spent seem to be focusing only on public sector employees and retirees and not the legions of others feeding at the public trough. For instance, one might ask why the names and amounts of benefits issued to Food Stamp recipients is not available to the public and it’s “right to know”.  After all, the taxpayers are paying for this, right?  Perhaps the Appeals Court will see an inconsistency here.

Then there is the news report yesterday that Fidelity, a financial services firm that among other things administers 401K funds on behalf of many employers and employees, is seeing increasing numbers of the not-yet-old-enough to retire drawing funds from their 401K accounts. Reported as a sign of growing desperation among the populace due to a sinking economy and job losses, this news portends future legions that will be unprepared for retirement. The trend is not good.

In  today’s Register an editorial that seems to be an attempted preemptive strike suggests that there may be a move in the future for the federal government to prop up 401k’s and other savings for retirement that have experienced significant market losses in these troubled times. And a pair of op-ed pieces, one authored by Supervisors Campbell and Nguyen, the other by OCEA’s Nick Beradino, take on the Register for its less than flattering stance about the new lower tier and presumably lower cost county retirement option that has been put in place (that is if the IRS will eventually go along). Earlier in the week the Register blasted newly elected Supervisor Shawn Nelson, a person the Register endorsed in the election to replace Supervisor Norby, for his choice of county retirement plans – an intelligent choice for it seems Nelson is able to identify his own best interests – vs. making a political choice by either selecting no retirement plan at all or the new one that the IRS has not yet approved. This sure shows how a Register endorsement can quickly turn into the kiss of death.

If all this is not chaos enough for you, ponder the news this past week that unemployment rose by over 500,000 in the past month. It seems there is very little good economic news out there these days, and the media is hell-bent to report on any aspect that will intensify the funk many of us are in.  It’s enough to make me suspicious of what is, as well as what is not, reported in the newspaper.

About Over But Not Out

A retired Orange County employee, and moderate Republican. The editor seriously does not know OBNO's identity as did not the former editor, but his point of view is obviously interesting and valued.