Guest opinion: The Old Guard doesn't get it — citizens want real pension reform
The Old Guard doesn't get it.
Contrary to what Kelly Fergusson said in an Almanac opinion piece last week, the "pension reform" bill package passed by the state is a shadow of what Gov. Brown proposed, offers almost zero current savings, and does not reform the corrupt pension system. Even the inclusive League of California Cities argued strongly for the governor's original reform and was disappointed with the outcome, and every major newspaper in the state called the so-called pension-reform bills a bluff.
The eviscerated package that emerged may even retard meaningful reform — not advance it — because it failed to change the state Constitution as the governor asked. But voters have finally caught on and want real pension reform, not whitewash. How sad that a City Council incumbent/candidate touts the virtues of that flimsy package.
Here is the issue in Menlo Park: On Feb.13, 2007, deliberately dismissing citizen input, then Mayor Fergusson and the council voted to increase pension benefits by 35 percent. For example, any non-police employee making $100,000 a year in Menlo Park — and more than 26 MP employees do — could increase his/her retirement (not counting personal savings) from $60,000 to $81,000 annually in one stroke. Solely because of Measure L that enormous mistake can never happen again — residents here must now vote to approve such an increase.
In the Almanac piece, Ms. Fergusson oddly takes credit for turning back the formula for calculating future employees' pensions — as members of our group started calling for from late 2009. Ironically, the new formula is pretty much what the formula had been for current employees before she and the council increased it! *
Last week's opinion piece reflects Ms. Fergusson's unique view; one need only read her distorted ballot arguments against Measure L two years ago and compare; and not one of her dire predictions then has come to pass.
We, Menlo Park voters who approved Measure L by nearly 72 percent, can take pride. We were fiscally prudent — hardly mean spirited. We blamed elected officials — not employees. Measure L prevailed quickly in a court challenge. And by demonstrating that responsible citizens support fair reform, we inspired many of the subsequent reforms that citizens in other cities have passed with similar majorities, and helped spotlight the issue nationwide. Citizens of Menlo Park deserve credit.
* The formula was 2 percent of best-year earnings, with retirement allowed at age 55 for all employees. It was increased to 2.7 percent, applying retroactively for then current employees. It is now 2 percent at 60 for employees hired since February 2012 and remains 2.7 percent at 55 for the rest.