Try engaging, not alarming voters on pensions

Ventura County, CA pension reform drive has attracted national attention

EditorialBy David Grau and Dick Thomson



PiggyBankBrokenThere’s no single reason why Ventura County should reform its system of pensions and obligations to public employees. There are 100 million reasons. That’s because the county is spending $100 million more in 2014 to pay for pensions than just 10 years ago.

That $100 million could be used for libraries, parks and other benefits in Ventura County. Today, it only goes to keeping the unsustainable system afloat.

In response, a volunteer effort is conducting a campaign to ask whether the county’s pension system can slow its skyrocketing costs, shift public employees to a modern 401(k)-style retirement plan and ask public employees to contribute to their retirement like everyone else.

This strikes most as fundamentally fair or even long overdue, certainly in light of the fact that the current system has a $1 billion unfunded liability that is, essentially, a public debt owed by every taxpayer in Ventura County.

Having first ignored the problem, then dismissed reformers and finally attempted to prevent voters from signing petitions, the opponents of pension reform have now settled upon their official campaign team: Sheriff Geoff Dean and District Attorney Greg Totten.

Since both Dean and Totten are running unopposed for re-election this year, one might expect this would make them less likely to engage in a barnstorming campaign from one end of Ventura County to the other against pension reform. The opposite is true.

Although they are obvious supporters of the county’s pension system, one hears little of its virtues from Dean and Totten. Instead, volunteer reformers are derided, accused of lying and have their motivations challenged.

Why else would Dean insist that the pension reform effort will make Ventura County “uncompetitive” in recruiting — a fancy way of saying future deputies will be inferior? Why else would Totten state unequivocally the same reform would result in an inability to hire effective prosecutors and “prevent us from providing the services we need”?

Our district attorney and sheriff look alarmist for suggesting that a vote for pension reform is somehow a vote for more crime at your front door. Finally, if Ventura County is not an attractive destination for these jobs — as Dean and Totten clearly suggest — it is surely news to the hundreds of people who apply for every single job opening in the sheriff’s department and district attorney’s office.

If there’s any explanation for the rhetoric being ratcheted up by our law enforcement leaders, it may be public employee unions and the politicians they have negotiated with in secret for years no longer believe the case for keeping the current arrangement is as strong as the momentum for reform.

Every word in every agreement of every contract that went into creating this unsustainable system was proposed by union officials and agreed to by county representatives. Rarely were taxpayers, civic leaders, educators, business groups involved.

Now, the public is involved. And tens of thousands are exercising their right to participate in direct democracy and inspire a tide of reform that is motivated not by placing blame but by solving the problems of Ventura County.


Editor’s note- read more about pension liabilities


Richard Thomson, a retired executive from Procter & Gamble Paper Products Company, is president and chief executive officer of the Ventura County Taxpayers Association and lives in the Silver Strand area.

David Grau is on the board of Ventura County Taxpayers Association

The Ventura County Taxpayers Association, advocating for sound fiscal public policy

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CI Anderson

All county public safety are exempt from social security taxes. The County has saved hundreds of millions, if not billions over the years by not paying the employer side of social security for public safety…..stiffing america’s seniors.

In most of the local cites, all public employees are exempt from social security taxes, and all L.A city/county employees, all california school teachers….