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Pension tension, misapprehension

October 17, 2009

Re "A sweet deal for state retirees," Oct. 9

The Times highlighted one of many issues at the heart of our state's unbalanced budget. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has pushed the Legislature to reform the state pension system.

Currently, our unfunded pension promises to dwarf even our general obligation bond promises, and meeting those obligations is increasingly diverting money from important programs -- including the state's crown jewel, our higher education system consisting of the University of California, California State University and the community colleges.

This is why Schwarzenegger has asked the Legislature to reform pensions.

David Crane

Sacramento

The writer is senior advisor to the governor for economic development.

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Your article focused on highly paid retired pensioners returning to work while drawing very healthy pensions. Some lesser-paid individuals have chosen this pathway as a means to continue working after years of service, often because the current economy has limited the earnings opportunities for their offspring or because they must assist elderly parents.

The positions they fill require specialized educational preparation, and new employees cannot be found to replace them.

Janet Campbell

Glendora

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I would like to commend The Times for the important article about the astonishing income opportunities offered to state retirees.

While your reporter emphasizes the incredible aspect of once-retired state employees also receiving a simultaneous paycheck from the state for current employment, the truly important part of the story is the level of payouts given to employees of the state when they "retire."

When someone can retire for more in an annual retirement payout than what he earned in all but the last one or two years of his employment, and then collect that payout for more years than the years of actual employment, we know why the budgets of all cities and counties, as well as the state's budget, will inevitably be in the red for the foreseeable future.

Daniel Eliason

Santa Barbara

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The article regarding government employee pensions only tells one side.

I am a government employee with more than 30 years of service and two college degrees, and I don't make anywhere near the amounts made by the few individuals mentioned; neither does anyone I know.

Most of us are struggling to make ends meet on salaries of less than $50,000 a year and pensions of much less.

Kat Files

Los Angeles

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Although the abuses by some high-ranking officials indeed deserve curbing, I can't believe that ordinary state employees are abusing the system to such an extent.

Imagine the scenario in which someone at a medium-paying job retires, finds out later that his pension is no longer enough to meet his expenses and takes up another job at the state to augment his pension -- perhaps at a much lower salary.

Clearly, it will be very unfair to penalize him by stopping or cutting his pension just because some people far more fortunate than him have abused the system.

H. Mhaskar

Glendora

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The public employee pension funds in California are one example of the greed and corruption that is systemic at all levels of state government.

William Smallshaw

Huntington Beach

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Your article blasts the use of retired annuitants in state government.

Just a word of concern for you from a reader against acting out of pique to argue for an action that would damage the ability of the state to efficiently use its limited resources.

You seem to associate unrelated financial problems with the practice of employing skilled retirees. You miss the point that retired annuitants voluntarily return to state service and perform crucial and necessary functions to keep the state running, and at a savings to the taxpayer.

If the people of California can get a highly trained but retired professional to be on standby, work seasonally a few hours as needed in an area where they are already trained, and save the huge overhead, isn't that a much better deal than filling a full-time position, waiting to train them up to potential and paying leave and benefits?

Jeff Price

Oxnard

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Your story about state retired annuitants unfairly lumped highly paid legislators with the typical annuitant who works part time for the state out of financial need or the desire to work.

The state gets a tremendous bargain with most retired annuitants because they are already experienced and trained and they do not receive healthcare, vacation or any other benefits in their annuitant positions.

State retired annuitants are limited by law to work no more than 960 hours a year. They receive hourly compensation, which is often far less than what they earned during their state careers. The legislators in the story receive much higher pensions and work full time with six-figure salaries. But it is not noted in the story that less than 1% of all state retirees receive the six-figure pensions.

In the future, please distinguish more clearly between the few highly-paid state annuitants and the typical state retired annuitant who is trying to make ends meet.

Roger Marxen

Sacramento

The writer is president of CSEA Retirees.

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