1,237% increase in promised pensions dwarfs San Diego’s economic growth, taxpayers’ ability to pay

The total pension benefits promised by the San Diego County Employees’ Retirement Association (SDCERA) increased 1,237 percent from 1986-2016 — an amount which is over 300 percentage points more than the increase found at CalPERS over that same time period.

After tracking fairly closely with the other economic indicators from 1986-2000, the size of promised pension benefits exploded after 2002, as shown in the chart below:

SDCERA1200

This sudden growth reflects a dramatic benefit enhancement approved by the county Board of Supervisors in 2002.

Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner blames a broken governance model as the key factor behind such recklessness:

The 2002 enhancement was approved, in significant part, because U.S. state and local pension plans like SDCERA employ accounting methods designed to hide the true cost of the promised benefits — despite such methods being outlawed in the private sector and rejected by public pension plans in over 100 countries worldwide.

This scheme incentivizes politicians to over-promise benefits on the backs of future taxpayers — as they are immediately rewarded for doing so, yet immune from accountability when the costs show up several years later.

This also explains why such lavish pension benefits are only found in the public sector. Academic studies have shown that workers vastly prefer higher salaries to higher future pension benefits. The costs of higher salaries, however, are immediate, transparent and easily understood by all.

The costs of pensions, by contrast, are inherently opaque, which makes it a uniquely effective way to covertly enhance public workers’ compensation.

The below chart reflects the cumulative growth in SDCERA’s promised pension benefits (accrued liabilities) alongside a variety of San Diego County economic metrics:

San Diego County Indicators Growth from 1986-2016
Promised Pension Benefits 1237%
Personal Income 372%
Median Household Income 173%
Inflation 142%
Population 51%

Data sources:

  • Promised pension benefits reflects the growth in accrued liabilities, as reported by the San Diego County Employees’ Retirement Association (SDCERA).
  • San Diego County personal income “is the income that is received by all persons from all sources,” calculated and reported by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
  • Median Household Income data was provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Excel Trend function was used to fill in years in which data was unavailable.
  • Inflation is derived by calculating the growth in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: All items in the San Diego-Carlsbad, CA region.
  • Population data was provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

 


For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. The website is used by millions of Californians each year, including elected officials and lawmakers, government employees and their unions, government agencies themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

Nearly 900% increase in CalPERS benefits dwarfs economic growth, taxpayers’ ability to pay

The total pension benefits promised by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) increased 886 percent from 1987-2016 — a rate 21 times greater than the cumulative increase in the state’s population, according to a just-released analysis from Transparent California.

The growth in promised CalPERS benefits dwarfs the rate found in a variety of other economic metrics, as shown below:

CalPERSGrowth4

Transparent California credits Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner of Wirepoints as the source of inspiration for this chart and analysis. In Illinois state pensions: Overpromised, not underfunded — Wirepoints Special Report, Dabrowski and Klingner irrefutably demonstrate that the true source of Illinois’ pension crisis is the explosive growth in promised benefits, not a lack of funding.

Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner believes the same applies to California.

“Some politicians and government unions have claimed that last decade’s market downturn is the cause of California’s pension crisis. As this data makes clear, the real cause is the tremendous growth in the size of the benefits that were promised.”

The below chart reflects the cumulative growth in promised CalPERS pension benefits (accrued liabilities) alongside a variety of California economic metrics:

California Economic Metrics Growth from 1987-2016
Promised CalPERS pension benefits 886%
Total Personal Income 331%
Total State Tax Collections 311%
Median Household Income 121%
Inflation 119%
Population 41%

Fellner observed that blaming the inevitable market downturn as the source of CalPERS funding woes is analogous to a gambler citing a bad run at the blackjack table for having less-than-anticipated funds:

“Elected officials’ willingness to take on such massive debt, not the fact that the stock market sometimes goes down, is the root cause of California’s pension crisis.”

For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. The website is used by millions of Californians each year, including elected officials and lawmakers, government employees and their unions, government agencies themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

Oakland engineer and police officer again earn a combined $1 million, as superhuman OT continues

Today, Transparent California — California’s largest public pay database — released previously unseen 2017 pay data for the City of Oakland.

Fourteen Oakland city employees received over $400,000 apiece in pay and benefits last year — more than double the 6 employees who received that much in the preceding year.

Topping the list once again was police officer Malcolm Miller, whose $113,158 regular salary was more than quadrupled to $494,384 after specialty pays, overtime pay and benefits are accounted for.

Thanks to continually receiving overtime pay that more than doubled his base salary, Miller has been the city’s top earner every year since 2013, with the exception of 2015 when he was the city’s 2nd highest compensated employee.

Such continuously extreme amounts of overtime pay for a police officer — and the number of hours worked it suggests — is troubling, according to Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner.

“The data indicate this one police officer has been working roughly two times the regular hours for years on end. This is a recipe for disaster given the life-or-death situations police officers routinely encounter.”

Civil engineer Kenny Lau was Oakland’s 2nd highest compensated worker last year, with $480,562 in pay and benefits — most of which came from an agency-high $283,514 overtime payout.

107-hour average workweek

Like Miller, Lau has consistently received overtime pay in excess of his regular salary since at least 2013.

In 2016, Lau’s time cards showed that he worked all 366 days of the leap year, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report.

Lau’s $283,000 overtime pay in 2017 suggests a similarly intense workload, equating to an average 107 hours worked for all 52 weeks of the year.

After Miller and Lau, the next 3 highest compensated Oakland city workers were:

  1. Police lieutenant Trevelyon Jones, who received $462,370 in pay and benefits.
  2. Police lieutenant Sean Fleming, who received $435,695 in pay and benefits.
  3. Fire engineer Preetpal Dhaliwal, who received $433,054 in pay and benefits.

Average wages up over 20% since 2013

The average full-year city worker collected $114,620 in wages last year, a 21 percent increase from 2013. When benefits are included, that value rises to $167,363 — which represents a 26.5 percent increase from 2013.

Total city-wide spending on employee compensation was up 33 percent over that same time period, hitting an all-time high of $578 million last year.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows a less than 5 percent increase in median earnings for Oakland private-workers from 2013 ($48,610) to 2016 ($50,893) — the most recent year for which data was available.

The disparity in rate of growth between wages in the private sector and Oakland city hall is a troubling trend, according to Fellner.

“The ultimate ability to fund government pay packages rests with the taxpayers. If pay at Oakland city hall continues to outpace the growth of wages in the private sector, there may reach a point when taxpayers are unable to meet such a burden.”

To explore the entire 2017 Oakland payroll report in a searchable and downloadable format, please click here.

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with new, 2017 data from the remaining cities and counties in the coming weeks. Be sure to follow our blog and Twitter accounts, or sign up for our mailing list, in order to receive the latest updates.

For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. The website is used by millions of Californians each year, including elected officials and lawmakers, government employees and their unions, government agencies themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

How one LA firefighter turned a $90,000 salary into $1.6 million over the past four years

Overtime pay that was at least triple his regular salary in each of the past four years allowed Los Angeles firefighter Donn Thompson to collect a combined $1.67 million in total earnings from 2014-2017 — according to an analysis of newly released pay data from TransparentCalifornia.com.

Such outsized overtime pay allowed Thompson to clear over $400,000 in cash earnings for each of the past four years — despite drawing a regular salary that ranged between $86,000 and $92,000.

Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner said Thompson’s ability to collect such enormous amounts of overtime pay is without peer among the more than 2.5 million government workers surveyed statewide.

“Collecting overtime pay that is triple your regular salary in just a single year is basically a one-in-a-million feat. Thompson’s ability to do so over four consecutive years is without peer and, quite frankly, boggles the mind.”

Thompson has been among the city’s top overtime earners for decades, as reflected by a 1996 Los Angeles Times report that cited him as an example of LAFD’s “paycheck generosity.”

More recently, Thompson was among the trio of Los Angeles firefighters featured in the Transparent California report LA firefighter trio earns nearly $1 million in OT pay (again) — which found that Thompson and his 2 colleagues received the largest overtime payments of the nearly 2.5 million government workers surveyed statewide, in both 2015 and 2016.

The just-released 2017 pay data reveals that those same three firefighters are once again atop the city’s list for highest overtime pay, but with Thompson coming out on top this time:

Los Angeles City’s top 3 overtime earners (2017)

  1. Firefighter III Donn Thompson, who received $306,405 in OT for total earnings of $437,341.
  2. Fire Captain II Charles Ferrari, who received $284,882 in OT for total earnings of: $443,437.
  3. Fire Captain I James Vlach, who received $280,182 in OT for total earnings of $431,518.

While department spokesmen have responded to previous years’ reports by indicating that the dramatic rise in overtime was an anomaly that would likely taper off in future years, the data show just the opposite.

Last year, 512 Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) employees received over $100,000 apiece in overtime pay, which represents a tenfold increase from the 51 who earned that much in 2012.

26 LAFD employees received over $200,000 apiece in overtime pay, with average total earnings of $383,401.

Total department wide spending on overtime pay has also increased dramatically, with the $198 million spent on overtime last year representing a 74 percent increase from the $114 million spent in 2012.

The data also indicate that the total number of firefighters has remained relatively flat over the past 5 years, with the 2,066 firefighters listed on the 2017 payroll report representing a 3 percent increase from 2012.

As discussed in more detail in last year’s report, overtime pay at LAFD is significantly above the levels found at many of its peer departments nationwide.

Los Angeles County

A similar narrative played out at the county, where an agency-high $322,677 overtime payout boosted Los Angeles County Fire Captain Sergio Burciaga’s total compensation to $518,998.

The next 4 county employees who received the largest overtime pay were:

  1. Battalion Chief Thomas Ray: $283,529 in OT and $602,627 in total pay and benefits.
  2. Fire Captain Timothy Bauer: $275,560 in OT and $489,713 in total pay and benefits.
  3. Battalion Chief Dennis Breshears: $272,511 in OT and $580,216 in total pay and benefits.
  4. Fire Captain Richard Mullen: $263,501 in OT and $477,816 in total pay and benefits.

Like the city department, the county fire department also saw a tenfold increase in the number of $100,000-plus overtime payouts, which rose from 60 in 2012 to 645 last year.

Total overtime spending at the county fire department rose 52 percent over that same time period, reaching an all-time high of $212 million last year.

The dramatic rise in overtime spending occurred despite an increase in the number of county firefighters, according to the data. In 2017, the county spent $319 million on base salaries for its 2,992 firefighters — a 14 percent increase from the $280 million spent for the 2,866 county firefighters listed on the 2012 payroll report.

Six-figure leave time payouts

County employees can also boost their regular earning by cashing in unused leave. Last year, 209 employees received over $100,000 each in unused leave payouts, with twelve employees receiving payouts in excess of $250,000. The top 3 leave time payouts went to:

  1. Former Chief Public Defender Ronald Brown, who received a $358,572 leave time payout.
  2. Former Sheriff Captain Douglas Fetteroll, who received a $315,474 leave time payout.
  3. Former Sheriff Lieutenant David Smith, who received a $288,950 leave time payout.

Total county employee compensation hit an all-time high of nearly $12 billion — up nearly 31 percent from 2012.

To explore the entire 2017 Los Angeles County payroll report in a searchable and downloadable format, please click here.

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with new, 2017 data from the remaining cities and counties in the coming weeks. Be sure to follow our blog and Twitter accounts, or sign up for our mailing list, in order to receive the latest updates.

For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. The website is used by millions of Californians each year, including elected officials and lawmakers, government employees and their unions, government agencies themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

San Jose payroll tops $1 billion, as city manager collects $610,000 in pay and benefits

Total employee compensation for San Jose city workers hit a record-high $1 billion last year, according to newly released 2017 pay data from TransparentCalifornia.com.

More so than nearly any other California city, rising pension costs continue to account for an outsized percentage of San Jose’s employee compensation.

While the average, full-year San Jose employee received $116,008 in wages last year, that number rises to $198,060 when the cost of employer-paid health and retirement benefits are included.

Similarly, San Jose City Manager Norberto Duenas’s $610,752 compensation package reflects $372,261 in wages, with the employer-cost of benefits accounting for the remaining $238,490.

Overtime up 150% over past 5 years

As rising pension costs forced a reduction in staffing levels, San Jose has become increasingly reliant on overtime pay. Last year, San Jose spent a record-high $71 million on overtime pay — which is a 150 percent increase from the $28.5 million spent in 2012.

San Jose Police Officer Bach Tran’s $273,498 overtime payout was the highest of any city worker, and boosted his total compensation to $548,778.

The next four largest overtime payments went to:

  1. Police Officer Jose Uribe, who received $250,000 in OT and $515,975 in total pay and benefits.
  2. Police Officer Hector Vasquez, who received $244,135 in OT and $519,415 in total pay and benefits.
  3. Police Sergeant Domingo Sanchez, who received $223,638 in OT and $548,220 in total pay and benefits.
  4. Police Officer Linh Luu, who received $215,838 in OT and $488,171 in total pay and benefits.

Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner believes the San Jose experience highlights the need for fundamental pension reform statewide.

“As the experience of San Jose has shown, soaring pension costs can wreak havoc on local municipalities. Despite significant staffing cuts, costs still continue to rise and the remaining public safety officers are now burdened with the excessive overtime necessary to pick up the slack. Policymakers need to fix California’s pension crisis before similar scenarios play out at other cities and counties across the state.”

To view the complete 2017 San Jose payroll report, please click here.

 

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with new, 2017 data from the remaining cities and counties in the coming weeks. Be sure to follow our blog and Twitter accounts, or sign up for our mailing list, in order to receive the latest updates.

For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. The website is used by millions of Californians each year, including elected officials and lawmakers, government employees and their unions, government agencies themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

San Francisco public pay up nearly $900 million since 2012

Today, Transparent California — the state’s largest public pay database — released 2017 employee compensation data for 175 California cities and counties.

In 2017, San Francisco spent $4.56 billion on employee compensation — a nearly $900 million increase from 2012.

The average full-year employee earned $110,823, which increased to $144,951 when benefits are included.

San Francisco’s highest compensated official was William Coaker Jr., who received $666,180 in total pay and benefits as chief investment officer of the San Francisco City & County Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS).

After Coaker, the next 3 highest compensated San Francisco workers were:

  1. SFERS Managing Director David Francl: $565,892.
  2. SFERS Managing Director Arthur Wang: $551,116.
  3. Sheriff’s Lieutenant Ronald Terry: $546,240 — $273,077 of which came from overtime pay.

When measured on a per capita basis, San Francisco spent an all-time high of $5,155 per resident on employee compensation in 2017. While Transparent California is still working on collecting the 2017 data from all California cities and counties, the average California city spent $588 per resident on employee compensation in 2016.

For years, San Francisco has spent significantly more on employee compensation than any other California city or county and is expected to do so once again this year.

To view the complete dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, please click here.

$300,445 average compensation for Mountain View fire officers

In Mountain View, the average fire officer earned $300,445 in pay and benefits last year, according to the data.

The top earner was Mountain View Fire Engineer Michael Wester, who logged over 6,000 hours of work which boosted his total pay to $449,627 — $287,368 of which came from overtime. When benefits are included, Wester’s total compensation was $530,517.

Because firefighters work 24-hour shifts, the standard number of hours worked in a year is set at 2,912, according to their contract.

A review of Wester’s time cards, however, indicate that he only logged 2,668 hours of regular pay, with over 3,000 hours coming from overtime.

“Because vacation days are treated as hours worked for the purposes of calculating overtime pay, firefighters can collect overtime despite working less than the minimum number of regular hours called for.”

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with new, 2017 data from the remaining cities and counties in the coming weeks. Be sure to follow our blog and Twitter accounts, or sign up for our mailing list, in order to receive the latest updates.

For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. The website is used by millions of Californians each year, including elected officials and lawmakers, government employees and their unions, government agencies themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

Former LA Assistant Fire Chief cleared nearly $1.4 million in pension pay last year, new data show

Today, TransparentCalifornia.com released previously unseen 2017 pension data for the Los Angeles Fire and Police Employees’ Pension plan.

This year’s top earner was former Assistant Fire Chief Donald Frazeur, who received a one-time DROP payout of $1,171,994 on top of his regular $212,730 annual pension for total earnings of $1,384,724.

The deferred retirement option plan (DROP) allows an employee to draw a salary and pension simultaneously for up to 5 years, with each year’s pension being deposited into an interest-bearing account. Upon actual retirement, the accumulated balance can be withdrawn either as a lump-sum payment or rolled over into an annuity.

The next 4 highest earners were:

  1. Former Deputy Police Chief Michael Downing: $995,845.
  2. Former Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Castro: $931,636.
  3. Former Deputy Fire Chief John Vidovich: $893,906.
  4. Former Fire Battalion Chief Jack Wise: $893,489.

The average full-career retiree received $101,652 in pension pay last year, according to the data. A full-career retiree is defined as those who retired with at least 30 years of service. To explore the complete dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, please click here.

In addition to the police and fire fund, Los Angeles also provides its own pension plan for regular employees. For a press release summarizing the findings from that fund’s 2017 data, please click here: Dubious overtime pay helped boost former LA Port Pilot’s pension to nearly $375,000 a year.

CalPERS

All other cities in Los Angeles County belong to the statewide California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

The newly released 2017 CalPERS data reveals an average pension of $80,175 for those who retired from a city in Los Angeles County. Of those who just began receiving a pension within the past year, the three largest Los Angeles-area CalPERS pensions went to:

  1. Former Gardena City Manager Mitchell Landsell, who is receiving a $258,992 annualized pension after nearly 45 years of service.
  2. Former Pasadena City Manager Darryl Qualls, who is receiving a $215,173 annualized pension after 36 years of service.
  3. Former Vernon City Manager Michael Wilson, who is receiving a $215,000 annualized pension after 29 years of service.

For an extended version of the above list, please contact Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner at Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

The 10 cities in Los Angeles County with the largest number of $100,000-plus CalPERS pensions are displayed below. The far right column displays the percentage that those $100K-plus cohort represent as a share of total outlays.

City

# of $100K-plus CalPERS Pensions (2017) $100K-plus pensions as % of total outlays

Long Beach

390 21%

Torrance

237 44%

Santa Monica

219 42%

Glendale

212 31%

Burbank

181 35%
Pasadena 171

30%

Beverly Hills 111

41%

Redondo Beach 97

44%

Inglewood 91

29%

Culver City 86

37%

To see the individual amount paid to the retirees of each city, please click on the city’s name in the table above.

Fellner believes the best way to understand the impact of the growing ‘$100K club’ is to look at their pensions as a percentage of total outlays, rather than merely as a percentage of total membership.

“Comparing the raw number of those collecting $100K-plus pensions to total membership is an inherently misleading number, which merely reflects the fact that the vast majority of CalPERS retirees have less than 20 years of service credit at retirement.

“The data reveals that those receiving $100,000-plus pensions represent nearly half of total outlays for several Los Angeles-area cities, an amount which is rising rapidly.”

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with new, 2017 data from the remaining pension funds in the coming weeks. Be sure to follow our blog and Twitter accounts, or sign up for our mailing list, in order to receive the latest updates.

For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. The website is used by millions of Californians each year, including elected officials and lawmakers, government employees and their unions, government agencies themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.