Gov. Jerry Brown had vowed to rein in pension costs. But some of his appointees are receiving double payments totaling more than $200,000 a year.

By Shane Goldmacher and Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times
September 29, 2011

Reporting from Sacramento — Every month, Ann Ravel gets a paycheck from her salary as chairwoman of California’s ethics watchdog agency and a second, bigger check from her public pension as a retiree.

The double payments, which total more than $305,000 a year, represent the kind of costly pension perk that Gov. Jerry Brown has vowed to rein in.

But since he assumed office nine months ago, Brown has appointed numerous officials like Ravel to state jobs in which they can simultaneously collect a full salary and a public pension.

One is earning $234,000 in combined wages and pension to serve on California’s state’s unemployment board, which the governor wants to eliminate. Six Brown appointees to the state’s parole board are layering wages atop pensions.

“That should be against the law,” said Marcia Fritz, a certified public accountant and president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, which seeks to end what she called “double dipping.”

“It violates the whole premise of having a retirement program,” she said.

California law forbids rank-and-file state employees to draw full-time government wages and state-administered retirement benefits at the same time. But an exemption exists for political appointees to more than a dozen powerful boards and commissions, where members can legally earn both.

Taxpayers are footing the bill. The state treasury must cover $3.51 billion this year for California’s beleaguered pension system, known as CalPERs, though payments to active state employees account for a fraction of that sum.

As a candidate, Brown pledged to stop pension abuses. In March, he rolled out a 12-point plan for reducing pension costs that included “limits on post-retirement public employment.”

But only six weeks earlier, the governor had appointed Ravel, 62, to chair the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Because Brown has not finalized his pension plan, spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford said, “We are not commenting on what may be proposed in it.”

But she defended the administration’s appointment of retirees to state jobs.

“Our position is that it’s critical to bring the best and most experienced people onto boards and commissions,” she said.

Ravel, for her part, said she rightfully earned her pension after working as an attorney for Santa Clara County, whose retirement benefits come from CalPERS, from 1976 until her retirement in 2009.

“I could be sitting at my home in Los Gatos and taking my PERs check and working for a private corporation and making a ton of money,” Ravel said. “But I am committed to public service.”

“I feel like the taxpayers are getting their money’s worth from me,” she said.

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