California AG double-dipping state pension program?

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August 13, 2010

State Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Jerry Brown

SACRAMENTO, California: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown stole the California political spotlight in late-July 2010 when he laid into the governmental employees of Bell, a city located outside Los Angeles that is one of the poorest in the state, after the Los Angeles Times, "reported that the city manager makes almost $800K a year and stands to receive a pension worth $30 million."[1] He called the outlandish salaries "shocking and beyond belief" and called for a full scale investigation into the matter.[2] As a state public employee himself, however, local political watchdog groups question whether Brown's words and actions in this regard are a bit hypocritical.

Overseen by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, also known as CalPERS, the Legislators' Retirement System (LRS), established in 1947, operates as a special pension program for elected constitutional officers, legislative statutory officers, and members of the state legislature prior to November 7, 1990. The LRS operated in relative obscurity until the passage of Proposition 140 in 1990, which limited the number of terms that California state senators and representatives can stay in office and, perhaps most importantly in regards to this issue, eliminated pensions for state lawmakers. As a result, only thirteen working public officials are members of the independent pension program. Still, even in light of this attempt at local governmental reform, the law "prevents" either CalPERS or LRS from answering questions pertaining to specific members.

In spite of this obstacle, the Orange County Watchdog combed through the LRS actuarial statements and found an individual who matches Jerry Brown's age and salary. If this is indeed Jerry Brown, there appears to be a discrepancy in the records according to the Watchdog. The LRS has this person listed as having served twenty-five to twenty-nine years in public office; again, if this is Brown, he should only have sixteen years of service. Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for the Brown gubernatorial campaign, claims that neither he nor the attorney general's office know what is going on here. He did, however, note that Brown "started receiving an annual pension of about $20,000 when he turned 60 in 1998 and pocketed it every year until he assumed the attorney general’s office, when it was suspended."[3] What is at issue here is tens of thousands of state taxpayer dollars - if he served sixteen years, Brown's annual LRS pension salary would come to $73,720; if, however, it was twenty-five years or more, as LRS actuarial statements appear to suggest, it would be $110,580. This comes to a difference of $36,860.

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