Transparent California Releases 2013 Payroll and Pension Data

Today, the California Policy Center (CPC) released 2013 payroll and pension data (the most recent data available) on TransparentCalifornia.com, the largest ever online database of California state and local government employee pensions, salaries, and benefits. The data shows that public compensation in California is growing more out of control, threatening the solvency of the state and local governments.

This new 2013 data includes pension data from the big state pension systems and payroll data from state agencies, counties, the CalState system, and community colleges. It shows egregious examples of misplaced taxpayer funds. Most notably, one assistant fire chief with the Los Angeles Fire Department earned a pension payout of $998,456. On the payroll side, the Alameda County Administrator made $654,000 in total compensation in 2013, while her assistant made $338,000.

For anyone who wants to view – and download – information from the most comprehensive collection of pay, benefit, and pension data ever compiled for California’s state and local government workers, here are some key links:

All Data: http://transparentcalifornia.com

Payroll Data – by Agency: http://transparentcalifornia.com/agencies/salaries/

Pension Data – by Pension System: http://transparentcalifornia.com/agencies/pensions/

CalSTRS Pension Data – by Employer: http://transparentcalifornia.com/pensions/calstrs/employers/

CalPERS Pension Data – by Employer: http://transparentcalifornia.com/pensions/calpers/employers/

And here are some highlights of inflated 2013 payroll and pensions data compiled using data from Transparent California:

PAYROLL

  • Alameda County Administrator made $654,000 in total compensation.
  • San Bernardino and Los Angeles County CEOs made $500,000 in total compensation.
  • Sacramento and San Diego County CEOs made $370,000 and $394,000 respectively in total compensation.

PENSIONS – CalSTRS

  • 8,437 retirees took home six-figure pension payouts.
  • 730 collected at least $150,000.
  • 54 made more than $200,000.
  • One recipient collected $240,900, while another had a total pension payout of over $215,000.

PENSIONS – Los Angeles Fire and Policy Protection System

  • An Assistant Chief received a total pension payout of $998,456, which includes benefits and a lump sum DROP payment of $839,345.
  • Including DROP payouts, 85 retirees received total pensions exceeding a half-million dollars, while 12 of those retirees took home over $700,000 each.

PENSIONS – San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System (SDCERS)

  • A Police Captain received a total pension of $785,679 (this probably includes a DROP payout, but the data is not broken out).
  • 5 retirees in San Diego City Pension system received over $700,000 in 2013. 8 total over $600K and 13 total over $500K. 40 over $300K. (This probably include DROP payments, but thay are not broken out.

PENSIONS – Orange County

  • 13 retirees collected pensions valued at over $200,000 per year.
  • 148 retirees have a pension of 100% or more of their final salary.
  • 821 have a pension of 90% or more of their final salary.

These so-called “DROP” payments are lump sums paid when employees retire. This benefit is frequently offered to public safety retirees, although not all jurisdictions make it available. Where available, it is granted when a government employee who is, say, 50 years old and eligible to retire, instead opts to continue working. While continuing to work – and getting paid – because they had already become eligible to collect a pension, the amount they would have gotten as a pension is paid into a savings account on their behalf, bearing 5% per year interest. When they retire, they begin collecting an ongoing pension but also get paid 100% of the proceeds of these accumulated DROP savings. “DROP” stands for “deferred retirement option plan,” but in plain English it might be called “double dipping.” The taxpayer pays for all of this, of course.

Million dollar pensions are just the latest example of California’s lavish pension system paid for by overburdened California taxpayers. Meanwhile, essential services are squeezed, civic bankruptcies continue, and income inequality increases.

Due in large part to these exorbitant pensions, California state and local governments are facing an estimated $655 billion in unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities. This shortfall in contrast to the number of state employees and pensioners receiving half million dollar payouts or more from the taxpayer highlights the need for public sector compensation reform. This shortfall also puts the recent declarations of “budget surpluses” by many of our state legislators into proper perspective.

*   *   *

Mark Bucher is the president of the California Policy Center

24 replies
  1. Richard Rider says:

    Looking over the city of San Diego payroll records (my stomping ground), it’s clear that these numbers understate the compensation — at least for the city. I found the same thing last year. The “other pay” and especially the “total benefits” vary wildly, with some getting “0” cost benefits.

    I’m sure this is the result of sloppy (or maybe intentional) omissions by the city. I understand from the gatherers of this info that the governments are sometimes VERY reluctant to provide such information — and accuracy in public disclosure is not high on their priority list.

    Look at the randomly selected page of San Diego city workers with “police” in their job title — some cops, and some admin. The SALARIES seem to be right (though sometimes they worked part time or only part of the year), but the other two categories “don’t add up.” In particular the “total benefits” are clearly understated. Perhaps they don’t count the city pension contributions!
    http://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/search/?page=18&a=san-diego&q=police&y=2012

    I think the lesson for users of this database is that some jurisdictions have understated the numbers — by a LOT. It’s doubtful any of the numbers are OVERstated.

    One other point. Any attempt to average salaries is doomed, as most jurisdictions include part-time workers — some making only a few hundred in a year. To make such an average work, one would have to screen the part-timers out — no easy task. I would suggest that anyone with a salary of less than $20K be disregarded in such averaging — and STILL the average would be understated.

    BOTTOM LINE: There much useful info here, but the public employee total compensation is often under-reported.

  2. Robert Fellner says:

    Hi Richard,

    Great eye; you are correct. Both the City of San Diego and the City of LA do NOT provide the cost of benefits per employee. This is not an omission, it is an agency-wide practice. Their response to our request for this data was that it is “Actuarially calculated and not retained on an individual level.”

    You can confirm this by visiting their data on the State Controller’s Site here – http://gcc.sco.ca.gov/Reports/PositionDetail.aspx?employeeid=5848964

    We have the below note on display for the City, but it only shows up on the main page, not subsequent searches.

    Note: The City of San Diego did not provide retirement contribution amounts for police and fire department employees and, as such, “Total benefits” only reflects health insurance amounts.

    Let me know if you have any other questions on the data or are curious as to what a specific person’s other pay is for.

  3. Robert Fellner says:

    I also wanted to mention that your point about averages is correct.

    That is why the SCO site is so misleading. Any averages we cite on this data have filtered out non-FT employees, which is doable on the 99% of agencies that report benefits. We tend to be very conservative and it is likely that some PT workers are still captured (think someone making 25k w/ benefits) but, as you note, that will only result in understating the level of compensation.

    There are dozens of agencies that include over hundreds of employees with less than $1k total pay. I’ve even seen reports for agencies where 55% of the total # of “employees” received $0!

  4. Richard Rider says:

    Thanks, Robert, for the clarifications.

    Another problem with the averages is a FT employee who works only part of the year and then transfers, dies, quits, is fired (LOL), or retires. Benefits will appear, but the salary obviously is understated.

    The GOOD news is that these caveats verify that, as high as the averages are, they are less than what is actually paid full-time workers.

  5. Lee says:

    DROP is not double dipping, nor does the “tax payer” pay for it. The money that funds DROP, comes from the INTEREST FROM THE PENSION FUND. Only the money which originally used to fund the punsion was tax payer funded. The final payout from DROP would have been paid out over the same time period.

  6. Cassie says:

    I have gone through the post and finally I want to say that any step to average salaries is doomed, as some of them makes only a few hundred annually and to make such an average work, one would have to screen the part-timers out however it’s not an easy task. Also, it would be better that anyone with a salary of less than $20K be disregarded in such averaging — and STILL the average would be understated.

  7. Ed Ring says:

    Lee – Maybe we should start by understanding each other’s definitions of double dipping. I define it as collecting retirement and then also being paid for the same or similar job.

    How do you define it?

  8. Shelby says:

    I can’t find Orange County Fire Authority pay on the Transparent California site. Am I looking in the wrong place or is it not there?

  9. Robert Fellner says:

    Hi Shelby,

    Special Districts such as OCFA are not yet on the site, but will be added very soon.

  10. Michael says:

    Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District and Santa Ynez Elementary/Middle School District (or College School) are not listed. This information is helpful when school bonds are on the ballot.

  11. Giovanna DiRenza-Page says:

    While perusing the payroll data for the City of San Diego, I have become confused over the category “other pay”, which varies widely. I would greatly appreciate it if someone would define this category for me and how it is comprised. Thank you.

  12. Robert says:

    Hi Giovanna,

    Other Pay on our site is comprised of the following 2 categories as reported by the City:

    1. Lump Sum Pay
    2. Other Pay

    Lump Sum Pay (1) are one-time payouts most commonly associated with selling back unused vacation/sick days, severance pay, or something of that nature. So if you see a very large value in Other Pay on our site, it is most likely a lump sum payout of this type.

    Other Pay (2) includes, but is not limited to the following: car allowances, meeting stipends, incentive pay, bonus pay, hazard pay, bilingual pay, any other pay that is Medicare taxable and not part of the base salary.

  13. Giovanna DiRenza-Page says:

    Hello Robert,

    Thank you very much for your response. I greatly appreciate the clarification. Now I understand why these “other pay” figures vary so widely. Again, thank you.

    Giovanna

  14. Kris Hudelson says:

    Hi there,

    I’m wondering if the school district employee salaries take into consideration those teachers who are not full-time (only 4/5, for example). Can anyone shed light on that?

    Thank you!

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