LOS ANGELES (AP) — A search of pension system records has found 17 California lawmakers collect government pension checks on top of their monthly salaries, a newspaper reported Sunday.
The 17 include Republican state Sen. John Moorlach of Costa Mesa, a vocal critic of the state’s soaring pension debt, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Moorlach receives an $83,827 government pension check while making $100,113 a year as a senator. His pension check is based on nearly 20 years of service that included time on the Orange County Board of Supervisors and as the county treasurer.
“That doesn’t look good,” one of Moorlach’s allies, Marcia Fritz, said of the two checks. Fritz is president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, which has pressed for pension reform.
“I hate to say this publicly about John, but it’s double-dipping,” she said.
The practice is legal under current rules, and advocates for pension system reform say elected officials are entitled to the benefits they earned in their previous careers. But, they add, the costly pension perk is an example of what is wrong with public retirement benefits: Government workers can retire too soon with benefits that the pension systems cannot sustain.
Moorlach said he warned in 2004 that Orange County was making a mistake by lowering the age workers could retire and receive benefits from 65 to 55.
He said that after being told he could not opt out of the county retirement system, he abided by its rules. But he decided after retiring at 59 that he could still provide public service.
“I could easily have retired at age 60, but I had a lot of my friends who said, ‘We still want you involved. We want you to run.’ I did it for public service,” Moorlach said, adding he agrees the current system encourages public officials to retire early.
Assemblyman Tom W. Lackey, R-Palmdale, agrees that additional action is required to make public pensions sustainable, but he defended his benefits. Lackey was 54 when he retired as a sergeant with the California Highway Patrol.
He receives an annual pension of $111,792 from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, in addition to his $97,188 legislative salary. He did not accept a pay raise last year.
Lackey said the low retirement age for law enforcement officers and firefighters is justified.
“I do believe in my situation, law enforcement pensions deserve unique consideration just because of the danger and all the circumstances that surround that type of career,” he said.
Last month, state Controller Betty Yee reported that California has nearly $64 billion in pension debt.
Fritz said one solution to the problem would be to adopt rules similar to Social Security, which reduces retirement pay if the person goes back to work and earns more than a small amount.
“Something like that would be reasonable,” she said. “We should do what we can to discourage people from retiring too soon.”
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