Jerry Brown is seeking restoration to his throne in California. He’s always counted on the loyalty of government-employee unions. And reciprocated. A new term as governor will surely worsen the Golden State’s economic circumstances. Apres lui, le deluge!
Perhaps for that reason, Brown has been dogged throughout his campaign by rumors that he may have padded his own government-funded pension account.
In 1990, rightly disgruntled California voters passed Proposition 140, which ended several luxe special retirement funds designed for elected state officials. But Brown and a few other long-time California state employees are grandfathered into a remaining honeypot — the “Legislators’ Retirement System” (LRS).
CalPERS, the state’s big public employee retirement fund, administers the LRS; and the conflicting public-disclosure and individual-privacy requirements that apply twist administrators into knots. But with few people in the plan, it’s relatively easy to deduce who earns, contributes, and stands to collect what.
Making such deductions, media outlets including the Orange County Register have concluded that Brown may have accumulated more years of service toward LRS pension money than he actually served.
The discrepancy could be a simple error . . . or a complex accuracy. In either case, it highlights the statist obtuseness involved.
Some public pension experts have suggested that the LRS may have credited Brown for the time he served as mayor of Oakland and in other government positions (though this would seem to run against LRS guidelines). CalPERS spokespeople say they know how the LRS beneficiary likely to be Brown has earned his pension credits but are “prohibited by law” from sharing the answer with the public. Brown’s campaign has hidden behind the law, too.
Here I’ll add a personal impression of Brown’s regal self-regard. Years ago, I was on an afternoon flight from Sacramento to Burbank with a few dozen tired lobbyists and state-employee types. One was a very attractive woman whose looks and demeanor suggested that she (or her family) had come from India. She was seated across the aisle from me and smiled nicely as we settled in.
As soon as the 737 was in the air, Brown — who was then between government gigs and had recently spent time with Mother Teresa in Calcutta — beelined back from the first-class cabin and stood over the attractive woman, breaking out some hoary pickup lines involving tandoori chicken and his fancy house in L.A. The flight attendants were in a rush to get their beverage service started on the short flight. One asked Brown to return to his seat. He asked the attractive woman to join him, but the flight attendant said that wasn’t allowed. Brown’s face fell, in a look of infantile disappointment. He complained that the rule was silly (to his credit, he didn’t bust out, “Do you know who I am?”). He then asked the attractive woman what she wanted to do. She demurred to the flight attendant’s reading of policy. So, Brown took the seat next to her and some intense, whispered conversation followed.
After downing my Diet Coke, I went to the restroom. When I got back to my seat, Brown and the woman were gone. Up to first-class, no doubt, while the flight attendants were otherwise engaged. At the time, I thought, “Good for them.” But the road to public profligacy is paved with a million small, selfish choices.