Public Employees and Retirees Share Stories, Dispel Myths

December 1, 2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011
Californians for Retirement Security

Pension Truth Squad Appears at Capitol Today Prior to Legislative Hearings
Public Employees and Retirees Share Stories, Dispel Myths

SACRAMENTO _ As lawmakers scrutinize Gov. Jerry Brown’s pension plan, firefighters, engineers, teachers and others from the Pension Truth Squad gathered at the State Capitol today to set the record straight about politically motivated attacks on public worker pensions.

“Gold-plated public pensions are a myth, unless you consider $26,000 a year in California extravagant. The same Wall Street bankers who caused our fiscal crisis now are targeting the retirement security of those who keep our families’ safe, teach our children, inspect the safety of our bridges, schools and hospitals, maintain our highways and so much more,” said Susan Sears,  a retired forklift operator and truck driver for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, pension costs are among the smallest and slowest growing costs in all of state government. Pensions make up less than 3 percent of the total budget, while corporate tax loopholes amount to billions. And even as Wall Street misdeeds wreck our fiscal health, public employee pensions inject money into the economy. In Sacramento County, CalPERS pension payments generated $1.1 billion in economic activity last year, according to a study by the pension fund.

Today, several public employees invited to testify at a special legislative hearing planned to tell lawmakers and the governor that they welcome fair and thoughtful changes to California's public pension system and changes to curb abuses. But they warned against forcing millions of working Californians into gambling on risky 401(k)-style retirement plans.
Elk Grove Teacher Maggie Ellis, who spoke at the press conference and testified at the hearing, urged lawmakers to steer clear of quick fixes for political gain.

“California teachers are as concerned as everyone else about our state’s financial situation. But slashing away at public retirement benefits is not the way to solve the problem and could make the situation worse,” Ellis said. “Teachers contribute 8 percent of our salaries to our pensions, do not receive Social Security and most teachers over the age of 65 do not receive retiree health care benefits either.  We earn the retirement benefits we receive and we put that money back into the local economy.”

Many state employees have agreed over the past two years to pay more toward their pensions and to other changes that have saved California $600 million, according to CalPERS. Overall, California public employees’ pension contributions have climbed to as much as 11 percent. In at least 200 California cities, counties and local districts, firefighters, police and other public employees have agreed to increase pension contributions and lower public costs.

“Making changes to the public employees’ retirement system should be done with great care.  Eliminating abuse is arguably necessary but should be done with surgical precision so as not to unfairly impact the innocent. And in the end, anything done should not result in the death of the patient,” said retired El Dorado county employee Sam Koch.

The Pension Truth Squad tour has appeared in 11 California cities and is sponsored by Californians for Retirement Security, which represents 1.5 million public employees and retirees. Speakers today also included: Retired San Joaquin County teacher Helen Holt, state engineer Matt Hansen, retired CalPERS employee Harvey Robinson and Sutter County Child Support Specialist Terry Barber.

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