Transparent California, a research group that is critical of excessive government pensions and salaries, says in a new study that benefits promised by the San Diego County Employees’ Retirement Association (SDCERA) jumped 1,237 percent from 1986 to 2016 — a rise that was four times more than the 372 percent increase of personal income in the county.
That 1,237 percent rise was more than the 173 percent increase in median household income, 142 percent rise in inflation, and 51 percent rise in population during the same period. “After tracking fairly closely with other economic indicators from 1986-2000, the size of promised pension benefits exploded after 2002,” when the County Board of Supervisors boosted pension benefits explosively, says Robert Fellner, executive director of Transparent California. In years after 2002, both the city and county plans ran into difficulties and scandal as excessive benefits strained the systems.
Mary Montgomery, spokesperson for the county fund, says, “SDCERA has no comment on a press release that uses unrelated data points to create an inaccurate, politicized picture of the county’s pension system.” Personally, I do not believe these are unrelated data points.
In one instance, I do believe that Transparent California is off base. Fellner says that over the period in discussion, the county’s 1,237 percent benefits rise was more than 300 percentage points higher than the increase at the giant California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS). Given the huge difference in the size of those funds, that statement appears statistically invidious.