Back in 2013 the City of Irvine had an unfunded pension liability of $91 million and cash reserves of $61 million. The unfunded pension liability was being paid off over 30 years with interest charged on the unpaid balance at a rate of 7.5% per year. Irvine’s cash reserves were conservatively invested and earned interest at an annual rate of around 1%. With that much money in reserve, earning almost no interest, the city council decided use some of that money to pay off their unfunded pension liability.
As reported in Governing magazine, starting in 2013, Irvine increased the amount they would pay CalPERS each year by $5M over the required payment, which at the time was about $7.7M. With 100% of that $5M reducing the principal amount owed on their unfunded liability, they expected to have the unfunded liability reduced to nearly zero within ten years, instead of taking thirty years. Here’s a simplified schedule showing how that would have played out:
CITY OF IRVINE, 2013 – PAY $5.0 MILLION EXTRA PER YEAR
ELIMINATING UNFUNDED PENSION LIABILITY IN TEN YEARS
This plan wasn’t without risk. Taking $5 million out of their reserve fund for ten years would have depleted those reserves by $50 million, leaving only $11 million. But Irvine’s city managers bet on the assumption that incoming revenues over the coming years would include enough surpluses to replenish the fund. In the meantime, after ten years they would no longer have to make any payments on their unfunded pension liability, since it would be virtually eliminated. Referring to the above chart, the total payments over ten years are $127 million, meaning that over ten years, in addition to paying off the $91 million principal, they would pay $36 million in interest. If the City of Irvine had made only their required $7.7 million annual payments for the next thirty years, they would have ended paying up an astonishing $140 million in interest! By doing this, Irvine was going to save over $100 million.
Four years have passed since Irvine took this step. How has it turned out so far?
Not so good.
Irvine was doing everything right. But despite pumping $5M extra per year into CalPERS to pay down the unfunded liability which back in 2013 was $91M (and would have been down to around $64M by the end of 2016 if nothing else had changed), the unfunded liability as of 12/31/2016 is – that’s right – $156 million.
Welcome to pension finance.
The first thing to recognize is that an unfunded pension liability is a fluid balance. Each year the actuarial projections are renewed, taking into account actual mortality and retirement statistics for the participants as well as updated projections regarding future retirements and mortality. Each year as well the financial status of the pension fund is updated, taking into account how well the invested assets in the fund performed, and taking into account any changes to the future earnings expectations.
For example, CalPERS since 2013 has begun phasing in a new, lower rate of return. They are lowering the long-term annual rate of return they project for their invested assets from 7.5% to 7.0%, and may lower it further in the coming years. Whenever a pension system’s rate of return projection is lowered, at least three things happen:
(1) The unfunded liability goes up, because the amount of money in the fund is no longer expected to earn as much as it had previously been expected to earn,
(2) The payments on the unfunded liability – if the amount of that liability were to stay the same – actually go down, since the opportunity cost of not having that money in the fund is not as great if the amount it can earn is assumed to be lower than previously, and,
(3) the so-called “normal contribution,” which is the payment that is still necessary each year even when a fund is 100% funded and has no unfunded liability, goes up, because that money is being invested at lower assumed rates of return than previously.
That third major variable, the “normal contribution,” is the problem.
Because as actuarial projections are renewed – revealing that people are living longer, and as investment returns fail to meet expectations – the “normal contribution” is supposed to increase. For a pension system to remain 100% funded, or just to allow an underfunded system not to get more underfunded, you have to put in enough money each year to eventually pay for the additional pension benefits that active workers earned in that year. That is what’s called the “normal contribution.”
By now, nearly everyone’s eyes glaze over, which is really too bad, because here’s where it gets interesting.
The reason the normal contribution has been kept artificially low is because the normal contribution is the only payment to CalPERS that public employees have to help fund themselves via payroll withholding. The taxpayers are responsible for 100% of the “unfunded contribution.” CalPERS has a conflict of interest here, because their board of directors is heavily influenced, if not completely controlled, by public employee unions. They want to make sure their members pay as little as possible for these pensions, so they have scant incentive to increase these normal contributions.
When the normal contribution is too low – and it has remained ridiculously low, in Irvine and everywhere else – the unfunded liability goes up. Way up. And the taxpayer pays for all of it.
Returning to Irvine, where the city council has recently decided to increase their extra payment on their unfunded pension liability from $5 million to $7 million per year, depicted on the chart below is their new ten year outlook. As can be seen (col. 4), just the 2017 interest charge on this new $156 million unfunded pension liability is nearly $12 million. And by paying $7 million extra, that is, by paying $20.2 million per year, ten years from now they will still be carrying over $35 million in unfunded pension debt.
CITY OF IRVINE, 2017 – PAY $7.0 MILLION EXTRA PER YEAR
REDUCTION OF UNFUNDED PENSION LIABILITY IN TEN YEARS
This debacle isn’t restricted to Irvine. It’s everywhere. It’s happening in every agency that participates in CalPERS, and it’s happening in nearly every other public employee pension system in California. The normal cost of funding pensions, which employees have to help pay for, is understated so these employees do not actually have to pay a fair portion of the true cost of these pensions. If this isn’t fraud, I don’t know what is.
It gets worse. Think about what happened between 2013 and 2017 in the stock market. The Wall Street recovery was in full swing by 2013 and by 2016 was entering so-called bubble territory. As the chart below shows, on 1/01/2013 the value of the Dow Jones stock index was 13,190. Four years later, on 12/31/2017, the value of the Dow Jones stock index was up 51%, to 19,963.
Yet over those same four years, while the Dow climbed by 51%, the City of Irvine’s unfunded pension liability grew by 71%. And this happened even though the City of Irvine paid $12.7 million each year against that unfunded liability instead of the CalPERS’s specified $7.7 million per year. Does that scare you? It should. Sooner or later the market will correct.
DOW JONES INDUSTRIAL AVERAGE
PERFORMANCE FOR THE PAST FIVE YEARS, 2013-2017
While the stock market roared, and while Irvine massively overpaid on their unfunded liability, that unfunded liability still managed to increase by 51%. Perhaps that normal contribution was a bit lower than it should have been?
Irvine did the right thing back in 2013. CalPERS let them down. Because CalPERS was, and is, understating the normal contribution in order to shield public sector workers from the true cost of their pensions. The taxpayer is the victim, as always when we let labor unions control our governments and the agencies that serve them.
CalPensions Article discussing CalPERS recent polices regarding pension debt repayments:
Irvine 2017-18 Budget – discussion of faster paydown plan on UAAL
Irvine Consolidated Annual Financial Report FYE 6/30/2016
Irvine – links to all Consolidated Annual Financial Reports
CalPERS search page to find all participating agency Actuarial Valuation Reports
CalPERS Actuarial Valuation Report – Irvine, Miscellaneous
CalPERS Actuarial Valuation Report – Irvine, Safety
Governing Magazine report on Irvine
“We’re not anti-cop. We’re anti bad cop. Bad cops have to be fired, just like bad politicians”
– Leader of Black Lives Matter counter-protest, who was spontaneously invited to speak at a pro-Trump rally (watch video).
There aren’t too many things that are easier to agree on than this sentiment. Even those of us who offer nearly unequivocal support for law enforcement can agree that bad cops have to be fired. But progress in the form of better training and more accountability will be incremental, despite the fact that social media now makes every tragic incident – no matter how statistically insignificant – visceral and immediate.
Last year the City of Sacramento enacted incremental improvements to their local ordinances governing police department officer training and police accountability. The impetus for this came after a homeless, mentally ill man was shot 14 times by police for walking around with a knife in North Sacramento. As the Sacramento Bee editorialized, the incident “cried out for a new approach to police abuse, one that would set a statewide or even a national standard. Instead, hamstrung by local and state laws that over the years have made police accountability much too hard in California, the City Council had to settle for doing what it could around the margins, revamping civilian review, pushing for better training and slightly improving transparency in officer-involved killings.”
What the City of Sacramento did was not necessarily enough, but it is a good place to start. It represents a savvy mix of steps that accomplish as much as can be hoped for in the face of existing laws, most of them enacted by California’s legislature.
Here are key features of the City of Sacramento’s reform:
1 – De-escalation: Greater police training to emphasize de-escalation and other nonlethal tactics when confronting suspects.
2 – Body Cameras: Police also will have to wear body cams, which tend to make interactions between officers and the public more transparent and civil.
3 – Transparency: Dashcam video of police shootings will be made public after 30 days unless the department can prove it will compromise an investigation, and victims’ families will get a first look, which will shine a light on cases that too often get complicated by emotion and hearsay.
4 – Accountable to City Council: The Office of Public Safety Accountability will at last get some money and staffing, and will report to the City Council, not the city manager, who also oversees the Police Department.
5 – Civilian Oversight: A new oversight commission, made up entirely of civilians, will get broader powers to review complaints filed with the accountability office. This will include the ability to subpoena information when needed.
SAMPLE LANGUAGE – “OFFICER NEXT DOOR” FRAMEWORK
RESOLUTION NO. 2016-Adopted by the Sacramento City Council
ADOPTING THE OFFICER NEXT DOOR FRAMEWORK
A. During the State of the City address on January 30, 2015, Mayor Kevin Johnson announced the Officer Next Door Program (OND).
B. The vision of the OND is that Sacramento will become the safest big city in California and a model of community policing practices.
C. The goals of implementing the OND program are a measurable decrease in crime and a measurable increase in community trust and engagement.
D. The OND framework consists of four pillars: Training, Diversity, Engagement, and Accountability. Implementation of these four pillars is in the best interest of the City of Sacramento to achieve the OND vision and goals:
1. Training: The police officers of the City of Sacramento will receive training that is nationally recognized as the best practices in community policing.
2. Diversity: The City’s police department (at all levels) will reflect the diversity of our City’s residents.
3. Engagement: The OND police force is actively engaged in the community that he or she is sworn to protect.
4. Accountability: Our police department is held accountable to the highest professional standards and embraces transparency.
BASED ON THE FACTS SET FORTH IN THE BACKGROUND, THE CITY COUNCIL RESOLVES AS FOLLOWS:
Section 1. The Officer Next Door Framework attached as Exhibit A is hereby approved.
Section 2. The City Manager or the City Manager’s designee is hereby authorized to take administrative actions and develop procedures to implement the OND Framework.
Exhibit A – Officer Next Door Framework
VISION & GOALS
To make Sacramento the safest big city in California and a model of community policing demonstrated by a measurable decrease in crime and a measurable increase in community trust and engagement
– Training: The police officers of the City of Sacramento receive training that is nationally recognized as the best practices in community policing strategies.
– Diversity: The City’s police department (at all levels) will reflect the diversity of our city’s residents.
– Engagement: The Officer Next Door police force is actively engaged in the community he or she is sworn to protect.
– Accountability: Our police department is held accountable to the highest professional standards and embraces transparency.
Our Officers Receive Training That Is Nationally Recognized As The Best Practices In Community Policing Strategies
We want our police officers to receive consistent, high-quality training to ensure that they are well equipped to address challenging situations that may arise as they are doing their important work in the community. Over the last decade, a myriad of training programs have been developed for public safety officials which can make them more effective when faced with difficult issues. Our police department must have the necessary resources to provide access to this type of training.
We will continue to ensure that our officers are trained in the following:
– Cultural sensitivity
– Implicit bias and discrimination recognition
– Peaceful conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques to include less lethal options.
– Chronic and mental illness recognition training including peaceful conflict resolution and deescalation techniques.
– Problem-oriented policing
Our Police Department (At All Levels) Reflects The Diversity Of Our City’s Residents
Sacramento is one of the most diverse cities in America. As such, it is critical that we put proactive and deliberate strategies in place to ensure that our police force becomes more diverse. We strongly believe that this diversity will result in stronger community relations and robust engagement with our residents.
We will work to implement the following:
– Targeted recruitment strategies focused on increasing diversity (of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.).
– Mentoring and professional development geared toward increasing diversity in police leadership and command structure.
– Incentive programs to encourage police officers to live in the City and hiring more officers who currently live in the city.
– Exploring the development of a public safety charter school.
Our Officers Are Actively Engaged In The Communities They Are Sworn To Protect
Our police force is most effective when they have meaningful and trusting relationships in the communities they serve. We must work toward creating true collaboration and understanding between officers and residents, so that our work can be proactive and preventative.
We will implement the following to increase engagement levels:
– Community activities such as youth listening sessions and education events.
– Youth development and crime prevention strategies like Summer Night Lights and the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Taskforce.
– Restoring police staffing levels to support community policing.
– Addressing underlying, systemic issues such as education and unemployment.
Our Police Department Is Held Accountable To The Highest Professional Standards And Embraces Transparency
As a community, we need to have faith that our law enforcement officers are always operating in the best interests of our residents and community. We should consistently be sharing and discussing public safety data to ensure that we’re identifying where potential issues may exist and working to correct them. Equally important is the responsibility the public has to support our police department with the resources they need.
We will implement the following to increase transparency and accountability
Increase transparency and availability of data to the public
– Release all video associated with an officer involved shooting, in-custody death, or complaint reported to OPSA within 30 days, where said video does not hamper, impede, or taint an ongoing investigation or endanger involved parties. The family of the decedent shall be offered the opportunity to review the video prior to public release. All faces will be blurred to protect the identity of those present and a warning will also be included to advise of the graphic content of the video. If the video cannot be made public by the 30th day, the Police Chief will provide the reasons and obtain a waiver from the Council.
– Work in coordination with the Coroner’s Office to notify the impacted family as soon as possible, an assign staff to the family to act as a liaison through the process.
– Adopt a use of force policy that encourages transparency and accountability.
– Respond to public records requests and other information requests in a reasonable and timely manner consistent with law.
Implement a body camera program
– Adopt a body camera video policy consistent with council policy and law.
– Ensure the program enhances transparency and availability of data to the public.
Changes to the Office of Public Safety Accountability (OPSA)
– Have OPSA Director report directly to the Council.
– Have OPSA be responsible for staffing the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission.
Changes to the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission (SCPRC)
– The Commission should be 100% civilian led.
– SCPRC to make policy recommendations to the City Council.
– SCPRC’s governance structure to be 11 members with one from each councilmember and three from the Mayor.
– The commission shall review quarterly reports prepared by the office of public safety accountability consistent with California Penal Code section 832.7(c), relating to the number, kind, and status of all citizen complaints filed against police department personnel, to determine whether there are patterns of misconduct that necessitate revisions to any police policy, practice, or procedure.
Monitor the national movement towards independent investigations
Monitoring and follow-up
– Bi-annual presentation and quarterly reports to the City Council and SCPRC on implementation of the OND Framework.
– Annual review of OND Framework implementation including activities of OPSA and SCPRC by the City Auditor.
SAMPLE LANGUAGE – ADOPTING A USE OF FORCE POLICY
RESOLUTION NO. 2016-Adopted by the Sacramento City Council
ADOPTING A USE OF FORCE POLICY
The sanctity of life is inviolable and every person is precious. Developing and maintaining a professional and highly trained police force is imperative. In an effort to guarantee that all lives are protected and valued in the City of Sacramento, Council is adopting the following policy that requires the City Manager to ensure the police:
A. Are authorized to use deadly force only when an officer reasonably believes that a suspect poses a threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or others.
B. Issue a clear and comprehensible verbal warning, when possible, before using deadly force.
C. Use the minimum amount of force necessary, under the circumstances presented to the officer, to apprehend a subject.
D. Develop and issue specific guidelines for the type of force and tools authorized for a given level of resistance.
E. Are issued and carry less-lethal weapons consistent with current best practice.
F. Do not move in front of moving vehicles.
G. Do not shoot at moving vehicles unless the person poses a threat with a weapon other than the vehicle OR has exhibited a specific intent to use the vehicle as a weapon.
H. Intervene when an officer observes another officer using force that is clearly beyond that which is objectively reasonable under the circumstances, and when in a position to do so, to prevent the use of unreasonable force and report the incident to their immediate supervisor as soon as reasonably possible.
Monitoring Method: Council Report
Frequency: Semi-Annual (March & September)
I. Receive training in de-escalating encounters with the public, to include mentally ill individuals.
J. Are trained in basic first aid and render such aid (as soon as it is safe to do so) after a deadly force incident.
K. Make death notifications to family members of a subject that has died as a result of an officer involved shooting or while in police custody.
L. Release all video associated with an officer involved shooting, in-custody death, or complaint reported to OPSA within 30 days, where said video does not hamper, impede, or taint an ongoing investigation or endanger involved parties. The family of the decedent shall be offered the opportunity to review the video prior to public release. All faces will be blurred to protect the identity of those present and a warning will also be included to advise of the graphic content of the video. If the video cannot be made public by the 30th day, the Police Chief will provide the reasons and obtain a waiver from the Council
City of Sacramento City Council Report, November 29, 2016
City of Sacramento City Council, Archived Meetings
Sacramento’s new rules are just a first step toward police reform, Sacramento Bee, December 1, 2016
Heavyweight Los Angeles law firm to challenge Sacramento on police practices, Sacramento Bee, November 27, 2016
A lost opportunity on police reform, Sacramento Bee Editorial, June 6. 2015
Introducing competition to the public sector is an essential part of delivering cost-effective services to taxpayers. What happened earlier this year in Placer County is just one example of how millions of savings can be realized by privatizing a public service. By replacing county employees with a private firm to provide inmate food services to county inmates and juvenile offenders, starting in 2018 Placer County will save over $600,000 per year. Here is how these savings can be realized:
1 – Give Agency Authority to Outsource: Ensure that your agency has the authority to contract for government services. The Placer County Charter has a provision under “general powers” that states as follows: “The Board may contract with an independent contractor to provide any services required of, or performed by, the county if it is more economical to do so.”
2 – Conduct Cost Analysis: Placer County engaged in a comprehensive analysis of the cost and benefit of continuing to use county employees to provide inmate food services vs. using outside private contractors. This process was conducted concurrently with taking bids from qualified contractors.
3 – Enact Resolution and Award Contract: On March 7, 2017 the Placer County Board of Supervisors awarded a five-year, $13.2 million contract with Aramark Correctional Services.
Making changes like this impact existing county employees, but to mitigate this, Placer County obtained an assurance from Aramark that all county employees interested in working with the contractor will be interviewed. In addition, arrangements were made for staff who do not transition to Aramark to receive assistance from the county’s Human Resources department and Business Advantage Network, to provide job training and assist county employees in identifying other job opportunities.
What Placer County has done with inmate food service they can do elsewhere. In early 2016, the county issued a request for proposals to evaluate other service delivery options. By making judicious use of the option to outsource public services to private contractors, public agencies can realize significant direct savings. But merely the deterrence value of the outsourcing option can be valuable for a public agency. When public employee unions know that their employers have the option of turning to a private contractor, they will be more reasonable in their negotiations.
Charter of the County of Placer
Article III General Powers, Sec. 302 Duties, Part (h) Contracting for Services:
“The Board may contract with an independent contractor to provide any services required of, or performed by, the county if it is more economical to do so.”
Press Release – Placer County
“Placer opts to shift inmate food service to private contractor”
Meeting Agenda – Placer County Board of Supervisors
Agenda for March 7th, 2017 Board Meeting including resolution to privatize correctional food services
Memorandum – Placer County Board of Supervisors
Cost analysis of privatizing correctional food services – March 7th
California is not just any “blue state.” By many measures, California is a blue nation. It boasts the world’s sixth largest economy, isolated from the rest of the nation by mountains and deserts that were virtually impassable before modern times. It is blessed with diverse industries, abundant natural resources, and the most attractive weather in North America. California is nearly a nation unto itself.
And it is an occupied nation. California is ruled by a coalition of monopolistic businesses, public sector unions, and the environmentalist lobby. These Occupiers control a Democratic super-majority in the state legislature, as well as nearly all of California’s major cities, counties and school boards. To enrich and empower themselves, the Occupiers have oppressed California’s dwindling middle class and small business sectors, and condemned millions more to poverty and dependence.
For the average working family, no state in America is harder to live in than California. It has the highest cost-of-living, the highest taxes, the most onerous regulations, one of the worst systems of public education, congested freeways and failing infrastructure. It will take heroic efforts to turn this around. And heroic efforts require heroes.
In the face of this overwhelming power, this alliance of oligarchs and government bureaucrats that has conned voters into embracing their servitude, where do you begin? What steps can you take? How do you rescue education, cut taxes, encourage new homes and new infrastructure, and save small businesses from crippling regulations?
As it turns out, a lot has been done in select locales, where heroes stepped up and successfully fought for reforms. And if those reforms could be replicated in other cities and counties, things would begin to change. To borrow a quote from Winston Churchill, if small local reforms began to spread across this great state, it would “not be the beginning of the end, but it would be the end of the beginning.” Here are some examples:
(1) Turning failing schools into charter schools:
As recently reported by CPC general counsel Craig Alexander, in 2015 parents at the Palm Lane Elementary School of the Anaheim City School District turned in far more signatures than needed under the Parent Trigger Law. The goal of the law and the parents at Palm Lane was to convert a public school that had failed their children for over a decade into a charter school. But the district, as a pretext to denying the Parent’s Petitions, improperly disallowed many signatures. It took a few years for parent volunteers and pro-bono attorneys, all of them heroically volunteering their time, to fight in court. But on Friday, April 28, 2017, the Court of Appeals issued a 34-page opinion that upheld in full the trial court’s ruling in favor of the parents and against the Anaheim Elementary School District. The Appeals Court found the trial court’s initial ruling, including the court’s findings of the bad faith tactics of the district, was correct in all aspects. Palm Lane Elementary school will start the 2017-2018 school year as a charter school.
(2) Stopping secret negotiations between cities and counties and public sector unions:
It wasn’t easy, but a few years ago, heroic progress was made. Orange County, Costa Mesa, and Fullerton all adopted so called “COIN” ordinances. COIN stands for “civic openness in negotiations.” This prevented elected officials from approving sweetheart deals with the government unions whose campaign contributions got them elected, all behind closed doors with minimal opportunities for public review. And to explain what happened next, one may borrow a quote from Tolkien: “Sauron’s [the Occupiers] wrath will be terrible, his retribution swift.” California’s union-controlled legislature passed a law they termed “CRONEY” (Civic Reporting Openness in Negotiations Efficiency Act), which mandates government agencies with COIN ordinances make public all negotiations with private vendors involving contracts over $250,000. There’s no comparison, of course. Private vendors disclose proprietary cost information in negotiations, and public entities are already required to take multiple bids in a competitive process. By contrast, public sector compensation, benefits and work rules are by definition not proprietary, they are public. And public sector unions, regrettably, have no competitors.
(3) Reforming financially unsustainable pension benefits:
If someone told you that they were going to invest their money, but if that money didn’t earn enough interest, they were going to take your money to make up the difference, would you think that was fair? Of course not. But that’s how a couple of million unionized public sector workers are treating the rest of us. California’s annual pension costs have risen from 3% of all state and local government revenue (i.e., “taxes”) to nearly 10% today, and there is no end in sight. But heroes are out there. In June 2012 voters in San Diego and San Jose passed pension reform initiatives. In both cases, to borrow some Star Wars terminology, “The Empire [The Occupiers] Strikes Back.” After relentless attacks in court, San Diego’s reforms were left largely intact, and San Jose’s were severely undermined, although some important provisions were preserved.
The people who fought for these reforms are too numerous to mention. They are all heroes. Some of them, like San Jose mayor Chuck Reed, San Diego councilmember Carl DeMaio, Costa Mesa mayor Jim Righeimer, and California state senator Gloria Romero, were elected officials whose courage has earned them the permanent enmity of the Occupiers. Other heroes, far more numerous, were the citizens, parents, and activists who dedicated countless hours to these causes.
Turning California back into a place where ordinary citizens can afford homes and get quality public education is not going to be easy. But there is no chance unless heroic individuals band together and fight the Occupiers, one issue at a time, one city at a time, one school district at a time.
Over the next several months, the California Policy Center intends to find more examples of heroic local reforms. It is our intention to not only compile these stories, but for each of them, distill them to the essential steps that were taken, so that these winning formulas can serve as an example to others.
We are in search of heroes. Contact us. Tell us your story.
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Ed Ring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.