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Your Tax Dollars and Someone Else's Retirement Benefits

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Talking about pensions isn't exactly sexy, but when you get angry about potholes not getting fixed, lack of public transit and other downsized city services, many would point to the unattractive word is one big part of the problem.

Here's one local example. By 2015, one third of the city of Los Angeles' general fund, which pays for core services like police, fire, parks, etc, could be dedicated to retirement benefits. "For every dollar you're paying into your pension systems, you're not paying into libraries, parks and various other city services," the city's top budget official explained earlier this month.

Why is this all happening now? Ed Mendel, who blogs about pensions in California, earlier this year explained that "the surge from an historic stock market crash, which punched big holes in pension investment funds, is creating concern that pension benefits approved in better economic times are not 'sustainable' and need to be cut for new hires."

Some would also point towards corruption and lack of transparency. Case in point, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday criticized state legislators for "rushing to make city finances more transparent in the reaction to a scandal in Bell, but refusing to open up state pension... finances," reported the SacBee. "[He] said the state should be willing to let the public examine pension records to see who's getting what. He has been demanding that pension reform be part of any state budget deal, saying that the system is too generous in benefits and places too great a burden on a deficit-riddled budget."

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And it's that exact same issue that as some buzzing about Attorney General Jerry Brown, who is campaigning to be the next Governor. Brown has taken the salary-scandaled city of Bell on, including the sky high pensions. So the Orange County Registar's OC Watchdog blogger Brian Joseph decided to look into Brown's pension.

"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," explains Joseph. "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."

16 years would be $73,720 annually for Brown. 25 or more years would be $110,580.

When pension records are released to the public, names are left out per law. Since LRS was shrunk 20 years ago by Prop 140, only 13 members are in it today, meaning picking out Brown should be easy, but not 100% verifiable unless Brown goes public with his information (and some may call for that as a sign of true transparency). Still, it has people talking. There are over 500 comments left on the OC Register's post and over 150 on the SacBee's pension article.

While the hoi polloi could seemingly care less, many engaged voters are a lot to say on the subject. What say you? Comment below.

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