The Locker Room

Public pensions facing increased scrutiny

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 07:01 AM

John Hood recently warned us about long-term fiscal challenges linked to North Carolina’s state pension system for teachers and state employees. Now Nina Easton’s latest Fortune column explores a possible “populist storm” targeting prospering public pensioners:

California is at the forefront of this voter revolt. In Los Angeles County, the summer of 2010 was defined by populist heat over the disclosure of salaries being collected by officials of the working-class city of Bell. Some of them, including chief administrative officer Robert Rizzo -- who stood to collect a $600,000 pension after allegedly writing himself a $1 million-plus compensation agreement -- have been arrested on corruption charges.

Even more widespread are troubling legal pensions. In Northern California, Contra Costa Times columnist Daniel Borenstein reported the salary of the city manager of San Ramon (pop. 63,000) at $344,200, and then calculated the pension due this 65-year-old government official: $261,000 a year. And a local fire chief was able to "spike" his base pension to $284,000 a year.

Intrepid reporters in California are finding that these stories aren't isolated oddities but symptoms of a generous salary and pension system built in good times -- and one that's crashing down on already-strained taxpayers.

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