In an op-ed for today’s San Diego Union-Tribune, I describe how the recent court ruling in our CalPERS lawsuit will be used to undermine governmental transparency across the state.
I also take aim at the false claim put forth by the unions, and seemingly adopted by the Sacramento County Superior Court, that disclosing disability pension data is the same as disclosing that person’s physical or mental disability.
But that is simply not true for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that many people who are collecting disability pensions are not disabled:
In fact, there are around 600 CalPERS members currently collecting disability benefits while continuing to work, and that just reflects those working for governments enrolled with the state retirement system. There are many others who work either in the private sector or for a public employer with a different pension plan, like the former Oakland police officer who has been receiving a CalPERS disability benefit since the age of 31, despite working full-time as an FBI special agent.
Even if this is somehow legal — and the fact that he is still collecting that benefit suggests it is — the taxpayers footing this cost deserve accurate information about how the system really works. The whole point of California’s public records law, after all, is that taxpayers are entitled to see what the government is actually doing, rather than just blindly accepting the narrative put forth by the agency.
The Oakland police officer worked for 4.5 years before retiring. Thus, the contributions he and taxpayers made during his working career will fall far short of covering the nearly $4 million he is projected to receive in combined lifetime pension payments.
Instead, it will fall to future taxpayers to help make up this shortfall. I suspect that this cost would be something most taxpayers would be happy to bear, in the event the officer truly was harmed in the line of duty such that he was no longer able to work.
But taxpayers might not be willing to pay that cost for those who are not disabled and, instead, immediately switch employers to perform the same or similar job, while collecting full salary, benefits and even an additional future pension.
If you read the court filings submitted by CalPERS and the unions, you’d think the scenario described above could never happen. So the question really is: do taxpayers have a right to know the truth, or do they have to accept the narrative put forth by the government, even when we know it is false?