Santa Rosa plans to refinance about $35 million in pension bonds in an effort to control costs and prevent the city credit rating from slipping further.
A 49 percent spike in unfunded pension promises could drive up taxpayer contributions to Sonoma County government pensions by $13.6 million over the next three years.
For the second time in two years, officials overseeing the pension system for Sonoma County government have lowered the fund’s projected rate of return on investments, a move that will increase taxpayer costs in the short term but is intended to reduce long-term market-driven shortfalls.
The Petaluma City Council Thursday unanimously approved an amendment to its contract with the state retirement system to create a second tier of retirement benefits for new employees.
CalSTRS, the state pension fund for public school teachers, has a major investment in a private-equity firm that in turn owns a company that owns Bushmaster Firearms International, which manufactured the rifle used in the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Here is the gravity of our county’s financial situation. From 1991 to 2000, the county spent $108 million on pensions, an average of $10.8 million per year. From 2001 to 2010, the county spent $302 million on pensions, but ended the decade with a $330 million liability and $515 million in pension bond debt. Added together, the average cost was $114.5 million per year, 10 times more than the previous decade. These numbers may sound shocking, but the reality of the situation is much, much worse because these numbers are based upon accounting gimmicks and overly optimistic investment return assumptions.
A day after many of its signature overhaul proposals were rejected in a lopsided union vote, Sonoma County took action Tuesday to implement state-mandated changes to employee pensions. The changes, most of which do not require labor’s approval, affect mainly future hires and are expected to help curb rising taxpayer costs over the long run.
Given how much is riding on this, why isn’t the county giving the public more of a chance to find out whether this new three-year labor contract provides the savings the county needs to get out of its pension/budget problems?
Long-sought changes to curb Sonoma County’s public pension costs are included in a proposed labor contract that covers about half the county workforce and is up for approval by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
Did Sonoma County supervisors break the law in the way they boosted retirement benefits for themselves and other employees 10 years ago? The county grand jury posed that question earlier this year, and the county issued its formal response last week. As I read through it, I was reminded of former President Bill Clinton’s famous parsing of words: “It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”