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Roger L. Simon

The Obvious Message of Jerry Brown’s Pension

August 13th, 2010 - 2:46 pm

A kerfuffle surrounding a clandestine Jerry Brown pension is generating a lot of Drudge action on this lazy August Friday. Servers at the Watchdog blog of the Orange Country Register that broke the story are bogging down. Keep clicking on it. The report is amusing. In fact, it’s a bit more than that….

It seems California’s one-time and now aspiring governor Jerry Brown has been drawing down a healthy pension from the state — perhaps double-dipping — causing a mild embarrassment to Jerry that could grow into something more than mild. At the moment he is locked in a tight race with Meg Whitman.

What’s troubling in all this is not that Brown makes a good pension — or even than there may be some discrepancy about how much he makes versus how much he deserves. It is that the whole thing is SECRET! (rare use of caps and exclam very deliberate).

Let’s think this through for half a second. At a time when pension funds are bankrupting or potentially bankrupting states all across the country, when aging populations are forcing the reconsideration of all sorts of social security programs on practically every country on Earth (countries that have them, anyway), and when the state of California — the sixth, or is it seventh, biggest economy in the world — is about to, once again, pay its employees with vouchers because it’s got zippity-do-dah in the bank, some officials of that state are receiving pensions whose size and identity we do not know and are not allowed to see.

Yes, there are secret state pensions in California. (Sounds like Novosibirsk, doesn’t it?) And we the citizens of that state are paying for them!

There is only word for this: criminal.

This mysterious fund whose beneficiaries you are not allowed to know about (even though you are paying for them) is called the Legislators’ Retirement System. It was supposed to have been reformed, but evidently it wasn’t. Who’s responsible for that little oversight, I’d like to know.

If Jerry Brown were a public official worth re-electing, not only would he completely disclose everything about his pension at this point, he would also call for a new law that makes all — and I mean all — publicly-financed pensions totally transparent.

We’re paying for them. We have a right to know who is getting them and how much they are getting. It’s so laughably obvious, it’s astounding there isn’t such an ironclad law already.

It will be interesting to see if Jerry does this. Although a cool guy on the surface, with all the best Zen moves of an aging-Boomer, in the crunch he has almost always shown himself to be a coward and to behave and act in the tradition of the hack liberal pol, pandering to interest groups and preserving the status quo ante.

Only in this case the status quo ante is a disaster. I am reminded of the lyrics of Woody Guthrie’s classic “Do Re Mi”:

California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see;
But believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot
If you ain’t got the do re mi.

Well, right now most of us don’t got the do re mi, not just those poor migrants Woody was writing about. The whole state is on the brink of collapse — from the redwood forests to the Whiskey a Go Go. Pension transparency is just the tip of the iceberg of what needs to be reformed. But pension transparency is a good place to start, because if we are to avoid permanent bankruptcy, a number of these pensions are going to have to be cut substantially. There’s no other way I can think of.

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