Supervisor Neil Derry

BY NEIL DERRY

Published: 29 July 2012 01:00 AM

Sugarcoating medicine works for children, but it is counterproductive in situations requiring mature dialogue and communication. San Bernardino County has a public pension problem — a big problem that continues to grow unabated. Our pension fund is currently underfunded by more than $1.7 billion. To put that in perspective, our general fund budget is approximately $2.3 billion.

On Thursday, I will bring before the Board of Supervisors a pension reform proposal that will:

— Increase the retirement age for new county employees.

— Decrease the amount of money new employees earn each year toward their pension benefit.

— Require all new and current employees to contribute to their pensions.

— Minimize the effects of pension spiking by averaging annual compensation for new employees over their final three years of employment versus the current single highest year.

We can talk about promises and contractual obligations. We can talk about “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.” We can talk about a lot of things. But, unfortunately, none of this changes the reality and gravity of the situation at hand. Our pension fund is careening toward insolvency and this will create a series of unpleasant realities. Bickering over what is right or fair is counterproductive.

Take a child born into an impoverished home with one parent and inferior educational opportunities. The kid was dealt a bad hand relative to other children in more ideal circumstances. He may respond with bitterness and blame others for his unfortunate lot in life.

At the end of the day, when this child turns into an old man and reflects upon his life, it is really irrelevant whether he was dealt a fair hand or not. Ultimately, it is incumbent upon him to do whatever it takes to overcome these circumstances and lead a life that brings personal fulfillment and happiness.

The same must be asked of our employees. Many are going to feel betrayed or cheated whenever pension reform is mentioned. Some will feel like the rules are being changed in the middle of the game. And frankly, elected officials must understand that these feelings are valid and appropriate given the circumstances.

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