California's Six-Figure Pension Club Has 62,000 Members
And seven retirees in Los Angeles pulled down more than $1 million each in retirement benefits last year.
Two retired Los Angeles city employees—Earl Paysinger, a former deputy police chief, and Emile Mack, a former assistant fire chief—pulled down more than $1.4 million apiece in pension benefits last year, giving them the largest nest eggs across all California's public retirement systems.
Last week Transparent California released data showing that more than 62,000 retired California public workers earn at least six figures in annual retirement benefits. Paysinger and Mack are two of the seven members of the exclusive million-dollar pension club. All seven retired from the Los Angeles police or fire departments.
In a related story, more than 20 cents of every dollar spent by the Los Angeles city government now goes to fund the retirements of former employees. "The city's general fund payments for pensions and retiree healthcare reached $1.04 billion last year, eating up more than 20% of operating revenue—compared with less than 5% in 2002," the Los Angeles Times reported last year.
Previously, Transparent California had only collected data from the state's two largest pension funds: CalPERS, which pays retired public workers, and CalSERS, which pays retired teachers. The newest update includes data from the state university retirement system and local pension funds from several big cities, including Los Angeles, where some of the highest payouts occur.
The more comprehensive data reveal nearly twice as many $100,000 pensions. Using last year's data, Transparent California said Michael Johnson, a former Solano County administrator who received a $388,407 pension, was the highest-paid government retiree in the state. This year he does not even crack the top 100, a group dominated by Los Angeles police and fire retirees along with a handful of former San Diego city employees.
Paysinger, the new king of the California pension hill, spent 41 years with LAPD before retiring in 2016 to take a job as vice president of civic engagement at the University of Southern California.
Six- and seven-figure pensions are not the sole reason why California's state and local retirement funds are in trouble, but they are a part of that picture.
The CalPERS fund alone is more than $139 billion in the red. The East Bay Times reported last year that CalPERS' retirement debt "averages out to $11,000 for every California household," a relevant comparison since "taxpayers, not government workers, must make up the shortfall."
At the local level, things are even bleaker. Increasing pension costs will likely continue to crowd out resources that otherwise would go to public assistance, recreation, libraries, health, public works, and in some cases public safety, according to the authors of a new report by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
In Los Angeles, the Stanford report suggests that pension debt will grows to $11,000 per household by 2029. Since 2004, the city has shifted more than $900 million of expenditures from other services in order to fund pensions.