Cynical Bill Shows Why Public-Sector Abuses Are Rampant

California's government workers have a whole range of ways to game the pension system.



Whenever I write about some of the absurd benefits and gamesmanship that flourish within California's public sector, people write back in disbelief. They have no idea the many special payments and protections afforded to the state's government employees—the types of things that virtually no one in the private sector would expect to receive.

I'm not referring to the generous retirement plans, which allow "public safety" workers to retire at age 50 with 90 percent or more of their final three years' pay and many miscellaneous employees to retire at age 57 with 82 percent of their pay. Or the Cadillac-style medical benefits.

Many people know about those things, especially given the state's growing pension debt and the "crowding out" of public services caused by these unsustainably costly programs. But what about the bizarre stuff that somehow has become law?

For instance, newspapers used the term "chief's disease," which refers to the way high-ranking California police officials often retire with a disability—thus protecting half of their income from taxes. Disabilities have become another entitlement, whereby some normal ailments that afflict our aging bodies can become a drain on the public till.

Then there are the so-called "presumptions." If, say, after an aged retired firefighter is diagnosed with cancer it's presumed to be caused by the job, thus opening up a storehouse of publicly funded benefits. There are "donning and doffing" rules, whereby law-enforcement officials may be paid for their time putting on and taking off their uniforms. Did you know that the state's billboard inspectors were added in 2002 to the category of public-safety officials, thus enabling them to retire with the most generous pension packages?

There are myriad—and perfectly legal—pension-spiking gimmicks that, say, provide special "management pay" for managers, or give librarians extra pay for helping library patrons, or government-employed gardeners salary boosts for working on sprinkler systems. These are the normal part of their job descriptions, but thanks to various little-known laws these employees get to inflate their final salary and boost their lifelong pensions.

News reports are filled with stories of public employees who receive massive payouts thanks to "Deferred Retirement Option Plans" and overtime pay, and public agencies that are forced to rehire employees (often with back pay and sometimes settlements) who were accused of behaving in a less-than-honorable manner.

How on Earth do these deals get perpetrated? Why can't California officials get control of costs and waste that undermine the effectiveness of the state's bureaucracies?

Those are the usual questions. The simple answer is that the state's politically powerful public-sector unions are like rust. They never sleep. They continually push for new benefits—and oppose reforms to old ones—in the state Legislature and within city councils. Most of these are approved quietly, with little media coverage and even less opposition. No one wants to go on record opposing police officers, teachers or other public servants. No sane politician wants to incur their unions' wrath come Election Day. It's easier to give in.

But examples always are illustrative. Two weeks ago, I wrote about four Orange County deputies who had attended the Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas on their personal time. When the gunman began firing on the crowd, the officers behaved the way many people behaved that day. They used their policing skills to help out fellow concert-goers. Good for them.

But unlike other people who did what they could with their own training and skills, these officers—and some others in different Southern California agencies—filed workers' compensation claims with their home counties to receive additional leave and medical benefits because of injuries they sustained during that horrific event. Indeed, Tom Dominguez, president of the Orange County deputies union, told the Orange County Register that he traveled to Las Vegas after the shooting and while there he encouraged deputies who helped others to file claims.

"If they deny the claims, then the message that they're sending to their peace officers is not to take action when it is certainly warranted," Dominguez told the newspaper. That struck this columnist as a cynical statement, and something that could undermine the very concept of public service.

Assemblyman Tom Daly, D-Anaheim, has since proven that cynicism isn't reserved for union officials. He told the Register this week that he plans to introduce legislation to require such compensation for off-duty officers involved in out-of-state crimes after the Orange County Board of Supervisors denied the deputies' claims. If passed, it would apply retroactively.

The county obviously did the right thing given that these officers were not on duty and were in Nevada, not California. But there's little doubt his measure will move through the Legislature as union-friendly Democrats and law-and-order Republicans trip over themselves to prove their generosity with taxpayers' funds.

And that is a primer on how these things happen. It's time to suspend disbelief.

NEXT: GOP's Virginia Loss Tells Us Little About the State of American Politics

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “a cynical statement, and something that could undermine the very concept of public service.”


    1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

      This is what I do…

  2. Congress needs to make sure that states never receive bailouts from the Treasury. Change the Bankruptcy Code this year to exclude US States from qualifying for bankruptcy protection. I don’t think any government entity, like a city, should get bankruptcy protection either but if it is kept make bankruptcy trustee supervision more powerful to clear the rot out.

  3. Easy-peasy:

    From this day forward government will set daily stock prices, thus guaranteeing the required returns to make CalPERS and other pension plans meet expectations.

    You’re welcome.

    1. And who’s going to buy these stocks at government-set prices?

      1. CalPERS?

  4. “Did you know that the state’s billboard inspectors were added in 2002 to the category of public-safety officials, thus enabling them to retire with the most generous pension packages?”

    Billboard safety is nothing to laugh about. Ok… really it kind of is.

    1. Wait. I thought billboards were outlawed in California.
      (with a specific exemption for the Hollywood sign, and all political ads by democrats)

  5. Calaforna wus runed by all them fuckin spics . thats why we voted for trump n alabama to keep all them greesy fuckers outta are state. were gonna keep alabama the gratest state n the cuntry .

    1. I see Shriek has found his new handle.

      1. Pretty sure it’s the slimy commie-kid; his shtick is that sort of lame.

        1. Man, now he’s insulting all the good people named “Bob,” “Bubba,” and “Jimmy!” And he hates the BoDeans! Dude is a DICK!

  6. I don’t want to know what does Cynical Hillary show.

  7. California’s plans are not the norm. Many states have sane plans. California on the other hand well it is California. The problem is the rest of the country will end up paying for it in the end. If any people think even if the GOP maintains control the Grand Coward Party may talk but after the first ad showing a 70 year old retired teacher who will be eating cat food if they don’t bail CALPERS out.

  8. I have it on good authority that no 70 year old teacher will be eating cat food in California.
    Any retired teacher that even thinks about that will be sued by the animal rights crowd, and sentenced to immediate death. Problem solved.

    1. But he’s right, you know. Assuming the Federal government still has money to throw around when the bill comes due, they will no doubt throw it at the politically connected states instead of letting them die under their crushing debt.

  9. People get old and need to retire. How are they supposed to live?

    1. There’s a vast gulf between never retiring and retiring at age 50 on a $200,000 per year pension.

  10. Any state that declared bankruptcy should revert to territory status and we should be allowed to redraw their borders and readmit them, letting them vote for federal offices again, when the financial situation is settled.

  11. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) will soon introduce legislation allowing failing pension funds to borrow from the U.S. Treasury. The plan would let funds borrow taxpayer money on extremely easy terms to meet their requirements.

    Funds collected from taxpaying Americans will be spent to satisfy the ridiculous retirement promises and obligations made over the past few decades, and while the immediate recipients of the funds, i.e., those looking at near-term retirement, will be made whole, everyone else, i.e., taxpayers, will lose.

    The bill would also hatch a new bureaucracy within the Treasury Department called the Pension Rehabilitation Administration. America would therefore be condemned to a pension crisis for the remainder of its days ? the nature of bureaucracy is not to solve but to expand any problem it was created to solve. That is how it justifies its existence? and keeps itself in funds. By some estimates, America’s public pensions alone are sunk in a $6 trillion abyss. According to data supplied by the Federal Reserve, pensions ? public and private combined ? were roughly 27% underfunded at the end of last year.

    1. Ah, yes. One more name of those owned by the unions.
      You wonder how cheaply they sold themselves.

  12. I didn’t know “doffing” was a word, but it totally fits the context.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.