Blog entry Jack Ehnes

Public Employee Salaries and Retirement Income Make the News

Earlier this month a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled that Sacramento County’s retirement system must make pension information available to the public, including the names of retirees and how much the system pays them. Publicizing public sector salaries and retiree income has become commonplace, not only in California but nationwide.

In a recent “From the Editor” column, Sacramento Bee Editor Melanie Sill explains the newspaper’s interest in public workers’ salaries and retirement incomes: “Our news coverage doesn’t have a bias for or against government workers. If there’s an agenda, it’s that people have as much information as possible – those who work for government, those who set policy and the taxpayers who fund the public payroll.”

Better Accountability or Invasion of Privacy?

But we need to ask, where does the quest for accountability of public agency finances end and invasion of privacy of an individual’s personal finances begin?

The California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility (CFFR) describes itself as “committed to educating the public and key decision makers about California public employee retirement benefit issues.” The organization has, for some time, published the names of the CalSTRS retirees whose annual pensions exceed $100,000 on its website. Although the site appears intent upon creating a perception of unduly high benefits, in reality it underscores just how moderate the CalSTRS pension really is.

According to the CFFR website, only 3,090 of more than 200,000 CalSTRS retirees’ pensions exceed $100,000. That translates to about only 1.5 percent! The average CalSTRS member retires with a pension of $34,668 after 29 years of service at a retirement age of nearly 62 years.

Focus on the Facts

All this is said to remind us (and our critics) that we need to stay away from hyperbole and focus on the facts. California’s educators work long careers at modest salaries and fully earn the pensions they receive. That’s the story that needs to get printed.

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