The Public Policy

The Gold Plated Years

A new focus on public employee pensions.

By 8.1.11

Send to Kindle

California is a land of contrasts. For example, take the fact that its teachers are among the nation's best paid in the nation, while its student test scores are among the lowest. That's a story for another day. The focus of this article is on what those salaries mean in terms of pensions. The number of retired teachers receiving more than $100,000 a year in pensions payments has increased by 76 per cent since 2009!

In 2009, 3,010 retired teachers were receiving $100,000 or more. It is now 5,308. Another 19,503 are receiving between $75,000 and $99,999 a year, according to the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, a non-profit, non-partisan organization. What's causing this? The generous pay scale for teachers in the state translates into higher pensions paid out through CalSTRS, the California Teachers Retirement System. It, along with CALPERS, the California Public Employees Retirement System, commands a very large investment fund and often weighs in on governance issues of major corporations.

People in both categories do very well in the Golden State because their unions have invested years of time and a large and steady flow of money into the campaign accounts of legislators (nearly all of them Democrats) to insure favorable treatment in the halls of Sacramento. 

Again this year, though the public retirement systems beg for reform, the legislature did nothing; instead, passing a budget with the usual gimcrack accounting as to expenses and wishful thinking as to revenue.

Meanwhile, a report from the Congressional Research Office requested by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) reveals that 77,057 federal employees are paid more than the governors of their states. (The CRO reviewed 2009 data.) Sen. Coburn had this to say about the news: "The pay gap between governors and federal employees should prompt Congress to take a closer look at federal salaries.… With our debt and deficits spiraling out of control, now is the time to ask agencies… to do more with less."

In California, where the governor's salary was $212,179 (and then-Governor Schwarzenegger took no pay that year), there were 703 federal workers earning more than that. 

Nationally, a number of the highly paid federal workers were physicians or air traffic controllers; however, there were also 271 environmental protection "specialists," 122 park rangers, 45 social workers, 21 archaeologists, 14 chaplains, three sociologists, four food-service workers and five civil rights analysts -- all making more than the governors in the states in which they worked.

A spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees fired back with a so's-your-old-man argument, to wit: Some government contractors are allowed to be reimbursed for up to $693,000 for the combined salaries of their top five executives. She forgot to mention that the government is not responsible for the pensions or overhead of the contractors, but when you're defending a cluster of gold-plated salaries (with gold-plated pensions to follow, in due course), any argument is worth pushing.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. He is a member of the board of the Committee on the Present Danger. His latest book is “Presidential Retreats.”