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Examiner Editorial: Outrageous public pensions drain California

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After the Los Angeles Times reported that the blue-collar suburb of Bell was paying City Manager Robert Rizzo $787,637 a year — with 12 percent annual pay increases — a crowd of indignant residents waited almost eight hours outside the July 22 City Council meeting. At midnight, it was announced that Rizzo, along with police Chief Randy Adams and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, was resigning without severance.

The combined annual salary of these three highest-paid Bell employees was $1,620,925 in a city where one in six live in poverty, property taxes are higher than Beverly Hills and debt held by the city quadrupled between 2004 and 2009. To say the citizens of Bell weren’t getting the management they were paying for would be a gross understatement.

Despite two corruption investigations of the city, taxpayers are still on the hook for Bell’s obscenely overpaid officials. The likely reason why Rizzo, Adams and Spaccia resigned so readily is that they are eligible for public pensions. Under current formulations, Adams will make $411,000 annually in retirement and Spaccia could make as much as $250,000 when she’s eligible for retirement in four years at age 55.

Rizzo, who was arrested in March on charges of driving over his neighbor’s mailbox while registering nearly four times higher than the blood-alcohol legal limit, is set to become the highest paid public official in California’s retiree system. He will collect more than $650,000 annually. Six years from now, when Rizzo turns 62 and starts collecting Social Security, his annual benefit will increase to $976,771. When he turns 64, it will top $1 million. And if he lives to 83, he’ll be pulling in $1.48 million a year. Again, all of this largesse is courtesy of state taxpayers.

California is but one of many states on the brink of fiscal ruin largely due to outrageous public employee benefits. Some 9,111 Californians have six-figure public pensions, as do thousands more public employees in other states. Maybe these retirees won’t get a million a year like Rizzo, but they are, in effect, taxpayer-funded millionaires.

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Fortunately, there are signs that taxpayers are fed up with this state of affairs. Last week, the governor of Missouri signed a law requiring new state employees to contribute 4 percent of their pay to their retirement plan. The Show Me State is showing California and the rest of the country a path to public pension reform.

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