The mystery of Jerry Brown’s pension

Brian Joseph
The Orange County Register
8/13/2010

As Jerry Brown grabbed the spotlight with his criticism of Bell city officials and their outrageous pensions, The Watchdog got to wondering: How much will the Democrat for Governor make in retirement?

That, as it turns out, is a very difficult question to answer. After more than a month of investigation, the Watchdog can only say for certain that Brown and a handful of other top officials are eligible for generous benefits under a special pension fund so obscure that few people in government know how it works and many thought it had been eliminated 20 years ago by outraged voters.

Under the law, Brown should have accrued, at most, 16 years of service credit in this special fund, known as the Legislators’ Retirement System, or LRS. Actuarial statements produced by LRS, however, indicate that an unnamed person of Brown’s age and earning Brown’s exact salary has been credited with 25 to 29 years of service. The difference would mean tens of thousands of dollars in additional pension payments for Brown each year.

Brown’s campaign staff acknowledge the unnamed person sure looks like the gubernatorial candidate but have been unable to explain the discrepancy over service.

Officials at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which manages LRS, have similarly refused to cooperate, saying the law forbids them from answering questions about specific individuals. Meanwhile, The Watchdog has sought help from the offices of seven state lawmakers, one constitutional officer and one state department as well three outside pension experts and not one has been able to explain the discrepancy.

It’s a mystery as persistent as LRS itself.

THE PENSION SYSTEM THAT WON’T DIE

Founded in 1947, LRS was established by the California State Legislature as a special pension system to serve, well, members of the California State Legislature. Later, it was expanded a little to include constitutional officers, like the governor and attorney general, as well as four unelected legislative statutory officers who hold special responsibilities at the State Capitol. At the absolute most, no more than 136 working officials in state government could be members of LRS, which, by the way, offers pension benefits far more generous than what your typical state worker could earn.

For decades, LRS operated in relative anonymity, doling out pension and health benefits to retired lawmakers and other elected state officials, until the late 1980s, when frustration with state government reached a fever pitch in California. Riding a wave of discontent, voters in 1990 approved Proposition 140, a ballot measure which implemented term limits for state officials and eliminated pensions for state lawmakers.

Many thought Prop. 140 meant the end of LRS. Ted Costa, one of the driving forces behind Prop. 140, certainly did when the Watchdog spoke to him recently.

The article continues at the OC Register.

CAJ note: Attorney General Brown is the Democratic candidate for CA governor in the 2010 election.

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