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The issues about rights to privacy and the battle over pension benefits have come together in an interesting story about retired public employees in California. Defined benefit pensions where the employer bears the investment risk have almost disappeared from the landscape of employment in the private sector. They have been replaced by defined contribution plans that place the risk on the employee. Defined benefit plans are still the norm for public employees. In California they are administered by CalPERS, the California Public Employees Retirement System. Public employee pensions have become a major target of the political forces of austerity.

CalPERS has just announced a new practice in information sharing.

CalPERS to disclose retiree pensions on website

California's mammoth public retirement system will fire up a new searchable pension database this month, according to a notice sent recently to member organizations.

The database will provide retiree information that is considered public: pensioners' names, their monthly gross pension payment, their base allowance, the Cost of Living Adjustment, their years of service, when they retired, their pension benefit formulas, final compensation and last employer.

Legally this information was already a matter of public record, but somebody who was intensely curious about Mary Smith's pension and how it was calculated would have had to make a trip to the CalPERS office to get the information.

There are some running controversies about California pensions revolving around practices during an employee's final working years that have the effect of boosting pension payments. The mater is also bound up with the issue of public unions who are strong advocates of maintaining the current level of pension benefits. The convinience of this new online database will doubtless be welcomed by members of the Tea Party.

Apart from these broader political issues, this also raises concerns about personal privacy. It is one more example of how the technology of the internet is taking information that while not legally confidential, we are accustomed to the notion that it is not made broadly public. The controversies over Google street view are one such example.

While there are likely more earth shaking matters than this going on in the world, this does not strike me as progress.    

Originally posted to Richard Lyon on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 06:36 AM PDT.

Also republished by California politics.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Repubs will cherry-pick (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Richard Lyon, MrJersey, NapaJulie

    a few people making a big income and try to generalize that everyone getting a pension is robbing the hard-working taxpayers.

    •  So fix the problem (0+ / 0-)

      If those people don't deserve big incomes then change the formulas so that is no longer possible and name and shame the people responsible for agreeing to the formulas that made it possible for these people to get big undeserved incomes.

  •  The Sac Bee (6+ / 0-)

    has an online salary database for all CA current state employees, so I guess it is more of the same.

    Republished to CA Politics, thanks.

  •  the Environmental Working Group does this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    erush1345, Neuroptimalian

    exact thing with farm subsidy payments.  I have no problem with it.  These pensions are being paid by taxpayers, not by private entities.  

    Kudos to CalPERS for making the info available.

    Cause he gets up in the morning, And he goes to work at nine, And he comes back home at five-thirty, Gets the same train every time.

    by Keith930 on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 07:39:01 AM PDT

    •  Why would it be different (2+ / 0-)

      for a retiree who worked for a private firm? Is the money and benefits earned there somehow more noble and respectable?

      •  nope...but they are not paid out by taxpayers (5+ / 0-)

        Neither are taxpayers, in any real sense, at the table over the course of any given public employee's career, when wage/benefit negotiations are made.

        All parties...the public employee, their union, and the entity they are negotiating with OPM...Other People's Money.   Taxpayers are left with the obligation.  

        There are now cities that have more retirees "on the payroll (receiving pensions & benefits)" than they have current employees.  If you don't think this is a serious budgetary issue in many, many cities, and that it doesn't impact a city's ability to provide the basic services most people expect, your are wrong.

        Cause he gets up in the morning, And he goes to work at nine, And he comes back home at five-thirty, Gets the same train every time.

        by Keith930 on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 07:51:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The issue of budgetary problems (2+ / 0-)

          is a problem in the aggregate. In accounting terms future pension liabilities are estimated by actuarial calculations. Information about one specific individual is not relevant to it.

          Both taxpayers and the stock holders of private companies have a legitimate interest in and right to information about the terms of pension plans and the aggregate liabilities generated by them. I fail to see how that interest is served by snooping into the affairs of private individuals.

          People receiving benefits from government assistance programs for the elderly and the disabled are legally entitled to confidentiality. I don't see why people who have provided services to the public for all their working lives should be accorded treatment as a suspect class.

          •  "in the aggregate" (0+ / 0-)

            Smoking, in the long run, is bad for your health.  But this single cigarette won't harm you.

            Cause he gets up in the morning, And he goes to work at nine, And he comes back home at five-thirty, Gets the same train every time.

            by Keith930 on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 08:13:02 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  You are completely (0+ / 0-)

              dodging the issue. It would appear that you are unable to answer the question.

              •  Let me ask you a question (0+ / 0-)

                You point out in your diary that public employees are, by and large, the only segment of the workforce that still receive a defined pension plan.

                Why do you think that is?  Be honest.  And the answer isn't that they are the last vestige of the workforce that is still unionized.  That still begs the question.  Why do you think that is?

                OPM.

                Cause he gets up in the morning, And he goes to work at nine, And he comes back home at five-thirty, Gets the same train every time.

                by Keith930 on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 09:13:03 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  I think that results from political dynamics. (0+ / 0-)

                  Private corporations have been able to be more flexible in making changes to their pension plans. Many of them have used bankruptcy to unload them on the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation which potentially puts taxpayers on the hook.

                  I am not taking the position that everything is sweetness and light with public pension plans in California. I have followed to tortured finances of the state where I live for many years. The hole just gets deeper.

                  Politicians have made commitments on pensions that they have failed to fund and then tried to kick the can down the road as then have done with every other aspect of state finance.

                  The point of this particular diary is that a public expose of individual retirees contributes nothing to a solution to those problems. It is simply a distraction.   I don't see anything to be gained by trying to demonize public employees.

                  •  I don't see it as demonizing public employees (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Neuroptimalian

                    I simply see it as a way of opening peoples' eyes to the extent of the public expenditure.  Have you ever visited the website of the Environmental Working Group, and explored their database of subsidy payments?  

                    It lists farmers and farming operations that receive staggering amounts of money every year from the federal government.

                    It was strenuously objected to when it was first published, for the same reasons cited here...invasive, intrusive, a violation of privacy.  But it has, over the years, made an impact upon how subsidies are paid out.

                    Is there still work to be done on that particular issue?  Yes.  But the conversation wouldn't even have started had that information not been made public.  Prior to EWG's public database, the check was always in the mail and nobody really had any idea how big those checks were.

                    Cause he gets up in the morning, And he goes to work at nine, And he comes back home at five-thirty, Gets the same train every time.

                    by Keith930 on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 09:48:48 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  I am very aware of the cost (0+ / 0-)

                      of agricultural subsidies and consider them to be unproductive expenditures. I did not need any information about individual recipients to arrive at that opinion.

                      The information about agricultural subsidies in the aggregate was publicly available since the programs began under the new deal. There was a public debate about the programs long before that database was established. Your claims for its accomplishments are seriously exaggerated.

                •  Because it is more cost effective... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  TokenLiberal
                  Moving away from a pension structure would result in higher costs for public employers and employees because of higher investment and administrative costs for alternative retirement plans.
                  among other negative things, per "recent research"
      •  I think it has more to do with the fact that (0+ / 0-)

        taxpayers pay these salaries whereas at a private firm they do not. At least that is always the bone of contention when it is brought up.

      •  Taxpayers are not on the hook for it (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        erush1345, johnny wurster

        I don't care what private companies do or pay people. What I pay my employees is my business, however.

        (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
        Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

        by Sparhawk on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 08:03:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  As a private employer (0+ / 0-)

          you can be audited by various government agencies depending on what line of business you are in. It is not strictly your private business.

          •  the issue of salaries and pensions/benefits (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Sparhawk, johnny wurster

            for public employees is best understood with the following analogy...

            Let's say you are a homeowner, and have a clogged toilet on a Saturday morning.  How many plumbers do you call to determine how much a service trip will cost you?

            Now, let's say you are renting, and it is written into the lease that the landlord will reimburse you for plumbing problems.  How many plumbers do you call in that case?

            If you are honest with yourself, you will admit that you would be more fiscally prudent in the first case than you would be in the latter.

            Cause he gets up in the morning, And he goes to work at nine, And he comes back home at five-thirty, Gets the same train every time.

            by Keith930 on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 08:11:02 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  The very idea of a pension! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SoCaliana

    On the other hand, it might be useful for communicating benifits of having a Defined Benifit pension and slightly increase pressure on all employers to provide good retirement plans.  i.e. If all these folks can get a pension from their work, why do I have to work for peanuts?

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