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Letters: Pension reform without the politics

December 01, 2012
  • Union workers protest efforts to gather signatures to put a pension measure on the Los Angeles ballot.
Union workers protest efforts to gather signatures to put a pension measure… ( Los Angeles Times )

Re "Riordan drops plan for pensions," Nov. 27

Los Angeles desperately needs to reform its public employee retirement system, with or without former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan's ballot measure. Riordan and the public employee union leaders who trashed his proposal agree on one point: A financial analysis is needed before a proposal is submitted to voters. Great idea. Let's do it.

We can assemble the brainpower from L.A.'s world-class universities, think tanks and consulting firms to give voters the facts about city employee salaries and benefits and how they compare to those paid by other large employers. Voters should know the impact of pension costs on future city budgets, and when reform proposals emerge, the savings that can be expected. Once Los Angeles is presented with the facts, the public can scrutinize and debate them. After a reasonable period, a citywide poll would give the City Council the input it needs, finally, to fix the problem.

No election. No dueling ad campaigns. Just the facts.

Pension reform happened at the state level when the facts led to the indisputable conclusion that reform could not wait. The Little Hoover Commission, the Legislative Analyst's Office, Stanford's Institute for Economic Policy Research, Capitol Matrix and the Milken Institute were among those who crunched the numbers and came to the same conclusion: that the status quo was unsustainable. State public employee unions considered the evidence and made the political judgment that the pension reforms offered by Gov. Jerry Brown were less worrisome than the prospect of losing Proposition 30 and its new tax revenue, so they grudgingly stood by while the Legislature passed Brown's plan. Pensions were eliminated as a campaign issue, and Proposition 30 passed comfortably.

Los Angeles is in the same position. City employees need higher taxes to keep their jobs, and residents want the services those employees provide. Pension costs put both in peril. When voters understand the consequences of inertia, the choices will be clear, just as they were in Sacramento. With pension costs consuming a huge chunk of the city budget and growing faster than spending on key services, it's time to act.

Los Angeles can fix its pension problems without an expensive and contentious election. Leadership is needed to make it happen.

Marcia Fritz

Citrus Heights, Calif.

The writer, a former member of the U.S. Government Accounting Standards Board's task force on pension accounting and financial reporting, is president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility.

Pundits and politicians exaggerate the politics of public employee pensions and understate the economics of the matter. Wages and benefits, like pensions, aren't the only topics at the bargaining table, but they are typically the most important. Most public employee unions have accepted lower wages in the short term in return for better pensions. This allows elected officials to boast of wage restraint while masking the long-term cost of pensions by underfunding them.

If voters and politicians want to reverse decades of collective bargaining agreements by putting statutory limits on pensions, they can expect higher wage demands by public employee unions, especially if employees are expected to pay a bigger share of their take-home pay for retirement.

Alan D. Buckley

Newbury Park

I was very disgusted by City Council President Herb Wesson's attitude toward Riordan, a private citizen who is trying to fix one of the biggest problems facing

Los Angeles. Belittling the former mayor and cutting off his microphone after asking him a question shows how out of touch our City Council is.

This is not "our house," contrary to what Wesson asserted after cutting Riordan off; it's the house of the people of Los Angeles. Most of us know the city has a major budget problem. We want someone brave enough to bring ideas to the table to get us out of this mess — someone braver than our City Council president.

Andrew Pedersen

Tujunga

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