Double Dipper: Jerry Brown's Secret Pension

Via Roger L. Simon, here's an investigation by the OC Register into the secret pension of Jerry Brown, the Democrats' candidate for governor of California. I say "secret" because the pension is part of a fund that was supposed to have been eliminated 20 years ago, and the pension administrator refuses to identify its legal basis, the method of calculating benefits, or even whether Brown is the recipient. As these are funds paid by the public, that is an odd position for a moralizing scold like Brown to take:

As Jerry Brown grabbed the spotlight with his criticism of Bell city officials and their outrageous pensions, The Watchdog got to wondering: How much will the Democrat for Governor make in retirement?

That, as it turns out, is a very difficult question to answer. After more than a month of investigation, the Watchdog can only say for certain that Brown and a handful of other top officials are eligible for generous benefits under a special pension fund so obscure that few people in government know how it works and many thought it had been eliminated 20 years ago by outraged voters.

Under the law, Brown should have accrued, at most, 16 years of service credit in this special fund, known as the Legislators’ Retirement System, or LRS. Actuarial statements produced by LRS, however, indicate that an unnamed person of Brown’s age and earning Brown’s exact salary has been credited with 25 to 29 years of service. The difference would mean tens of thousands of dollars in additional pension payments for Brown each year.

Brown’s campaign staff acknowledge the unnamed person sure looks like the gubernatorial candidate but have been unable to explain the discrepancy over service.

Officials at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which manages LRS, have similarly refused to cooperate, saying the law forbids them from answering questions about specific individuals. Meanwhile, The Watchdog has sought help from the offices of seven state lawmakers, one constitutional officer and one state department as well three outside pension experts and not one has been able to explain the discrepancy.

The immediate problem is that Brown is drawing benefits equal to 25 years of service, but he only served 16 qualifying years. CALiPERS is cagey on how 16 became 25, but the reporters surmise that Brown must have counted the year he spent as a clerk for the state Supreme Court and the 8 years he spent as mayor of Oakland, which makes sense. Speaking of Oakland, Brown is not presently drawing the pension because he is serving as State Attorney General; see, you can't double dip serving in state office. But, Brown was apparently drawing his pension during at least part of his tenure as mayor of Oakland. He became eligible for payments when he turned 60 in 1998. Double dipping isn't illegal, of course. But, it's the sort of thing that tends to rub voters the wrong way. Pensions are theoretically supposed to be for one's retirement, not part of one's annual income while they continue working.

(BTW, a Brown spokesman cheekily told the Register that if they were really worried about Brown's pension, they should vote him into office so he would continue to be barred from receiving funds. Haw Haw. Spoken like a liberal who is confident the state MSM won't ask too many questions about this.)

The pension at issue has an interesting history, and is a perfect example of how California liberals will go to great lengths to preserve their perks and power, even in the face of popular will arrayed against them. Brown's pension was supposed to have been eliminated by Prop. 140, the same proposition that established term limits for state officers. That was the understanding of the voters at the time (late 1980's) and the proposition's proponents. Indeed, Democrats like Brown were the specific targets of Prop. 14o, one of many conservative propositions that frustrated Californians have passed over the years, yet were then willfully subverted after passage. The judicial cancellation of Prop. 8 is the latest manifestation of this, but the careful preservation of Jerry Brown's pension gives you an idea of the lengths liberals will go. Meanwhile, "liberal" propositions - whether for high speed rail, K-12 education funding (which straight jackets the budget process), regulating the size of chicken coops or banning the sale of horse meat - take on the force of holy writ. Yet another reason for the initiaive process to be reformed or eliminated all together.

More broadly, this is a problem for what it says about Brown, and the wages of progressive governance that California has been buried under by his fellow libs. Brown is old enough to be drawing a pension, an apt symbol of someone past their working age, yet he is seeking to be governor of California, a state wracked by - among other things - out of control pension payments to state workers, especially those state workers who have served in management positions. Brown, and his ilk, are the ones who set this system into motion; granted to themselves lavish benefits; and now ask to be holding the levers of power when pension reform is heading towards the top of the state's agenda. If that is to be our fate, can we at least have a discussion as to whether Brown is really the man for the job?

Pension issues have not really been an issue in the campaign (yet), but Brown's fitness as someone to preside over pension reform would be questionable even under the best of conditions. He is running, after all, as the standard bearer for "progressive" Californian governance as practiced by Jerry, his dad, and countless Democrats. But, the voters, it seems, are going to be spared this history lesson. Too bad.

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