Friday, October 15, 2010


On the same day last week I received two slick mailers about Riverside County’s Measure L—one pro and one con. A voter would hardly guess (based on the information in the two glossy boards) that they were talking about the same proposal.

Measure L is designed to lock in the current generous retirement benefit formula for public safety employees in Riverside County--unless there is a majority vote of the electorate to the contrary.

An argument in favor of L in the voter information booklet implies, disingenuously, that the law is designed, “like Proposition 13,” to prevent the County Board of Supervisors from negotiating “higher pensions with the unions for public safety employees.”

Indeed, the list of pro-L arguments even includes this admission against interest for voters who read carefully: “In the past the Riverside County Board of Supervisors gave larger pensions to the unions that represent Riverside County’s public safety employees without a vote of the people.”

Put otherwise, Prop L would take the ability to cut pensions out of the hands of the same political body that previously negotiated the large benefits that the unions now want to protect. One’s head spins at the duplicity involved in this argument.

The pro-L mailer headlines the City of Bell and an individual supervisor’s pay increase and pension benefits to suggest that the proposal directly concerns limiting outrageous salaries and benefits like those in Bell. Just the opposite is the case.

The list of largely retired authors of the pro-L arguments in the voter guide clearly indicates that the measure was designed by and for the public safety unions.

On the other side of the L-issue you have a broad coalition of interests that include, among others, the Howard Jarvis group, the president of Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce, and a couple of retired judges.

Their arguments resonate with dozens of columns by Dan Walters over the last few years about the gigantic financial burden imposed on the state, counties, and municipalities by gold-plated public employee pensions.

According to the No-on-L mailer, “Riverside taxpayers are liable for $1.82 billion in pension benefits for public safety employees”—benefits that in only six years “will consume one-third of the county’s entire public safety personnel budget.”

The overstatement here is that L makes reforming pensions “nearly impossible.” It is certainly correct to assert, however, that the measure makes the process for reducing very generous pension benefits much more difficult than the process by which they were instituted.

If proposed laws were labeled honestly, Measure L would be named the Defense of Existing Pension Criteria for Public Safety Employees Act.

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