The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

July 12, 2013
Blog Back: The CalPERS pension database

130711-blog-back.JPGBlog backs review your thoughtful and provocative online comments, amplify points, answer questions, correct our mistakes and humbly accept your warranted criticism.

News this week that CalPERS planned to launch a retiree pension database on its website -- and then delay it -- drew hundreds of comments on this blog and on Thursday's more expansive news story. A sampling:

July 8 CalPERS to disclose retiree pensions on website

Shame on CalPERS Board and its executive staff for deciding it wasn't important to first notify its retirees. Posting online retiree names, pension amounts and their last employer is not the problem. CalPERS has decided to give out more information than what is released about active state employees. You are creating a serious security issue for elderly retirees.

Since CalPERS wants to be transparent, it should include in that online database 1) the employee names, positions and the amounts of the bonuses of those who receive those bonuses; 2) the names, positions, and pension amounts of those who received $10,000 or more final comp due to a bonus and/or a large leave credit when they retired; and 3) the names, positions, and pay of those employees who retire and are rehired as retired annuitants and consultants. Taxpayers should know that senior managers are the lucky recipients in all three groups.

At least one retiree group knew about the database. Check out page 7 in the July edition of the California State Retirees' newsletter.

What good does this information do for anybody? Oh yeah....NONE! What a waste of time publishing this database. I guess the only "benefit it has is to allow people to gossip about how much someone is making. What will be posted online next? Medical records? Dental records? A diary containing every word each person utters every day of the week. Holy Moly! :-|

CalPERS' rationale for the database includes its desire to control the quality of information that goes out to the public, its desire to automate the current request-response system and keep the information secure and accurate by hosting it on it own website.

Many blog users rejected those reasons:

CaPERS (sic) already provides information by name concerning retirement income for legitimate inquiries.

By publishing this information by name or retiree, the only good it accomplishes is to allow people to satisfy their own curiosity about how much individual retirees make per month.

IF the public has any right to know how much money individual retirees receive each month, it is only the right to know the value of the state's contribution to retirement.

Individuals contribute the majority of funds to their own retirement and have a right to have that information kept private.

I can understand the information of the size of a pension being of public interest, along with the job title. What I do not understand is why the public needs to know the name of the person receiving that pension. Once you have a name, it's so simple to get address, phone number, etc....and that's the problem here. All privacy is gone with this data base.

The information CalPERS planned to post is in the public domain. The names of pensioners and their allowances have been available online for quite some time. Click here and here for two examples of how organizations present the data on their websites.

July 9 Poll: Weigh in on CalPERS' online pension database plan

Opponents of government salary disclosures that include employee names sometimes point out that salaries of private-sector workers aren't subjected to the same public scrutiny. A version of that argument resurfaced in the retiree pension database debate:

Okay then, using the same logic, I demand the full, online disclosure of every Social Security recipient and their history of payments, every Medicare recipient and their history of payments, every income tax filer and all their forms, the name of every child attending a public school and what their education costs are, the name of every farmer who gets a subsidy and how much that subsidy is, the name of every corporation or business that receives tax incentives and how much the incentives are, the name of every vendor or contractor who sells to or performs services for the government and what their billings are and profits, as well as the names, salaries, and benefits of all the employees of all those vendors or contractors.

That sounds like a good start. After all, these are taxpayer dollars and should be as open to public scrutiny as either the salary or pensions of government employees are.

The rebuttal:

Income tax filers would be off-limits... it's none of anyone's business how much a private person earns and pays in taxes. As for getting a check from the government, it's generally fair game... don't like it, do something that doesn't end in a check from the government.

This commenter took on the public relations piece of the story:

There is not enough known at this time to determine whether this is or is not a good thing. What is definitely not a good thing, is the fact that CalPERS has made this determination and public announcement without first notifying its retirees, for whom it has a fiduciary responsibility. The retirees should have been invited to the table the moment this idea was floated, and testimony should have been gathered from both experts and the retirees, before a final decision was made. (Similar to what occurred, timewise, between JB's 12-point pension-reform proprosal in 2011 and the enactment of the Public Pension Reform Act of 2013.)

GRAPHIC: www.freeclipart.com

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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