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Public Servant Who Made $327,491 in 2017 Asks Us to Support Higher Taxes

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Every two years, around this time, political mailers inundate the
mailboxes of California’s registered voters. This week, many Sacramento
residents received “Vote No on Prop 6″ mailer. Prop 6 is that pesky,
subversive citizens ballot initiative that, if approved by voters, will
roll back the gas tax.

But Prop. 6 isn’t the topic here. Rather, the topic is all taxes in
California. Why is there relentless pressure to increase them? And what
special interests are paying for these campaigns to increase (or
preserve) taxes across California?

In that context, this No on Prop. 6 mailer is instructive. Because
blazoned across the cover of this four page, 8.5″ x 11” glossy full
color flyer, is Darrell Roberts, representing the California
Professional Firefighters. Roberts is the president of IAFF Local 2180,
the Chula Vista Firefighters Union. In addition to his duties as
president of Local IAFF Local 2180, Roberts is a Fire Battalion Chief
for the Chula Vista Fire Department. In that capacity, he earned $327,491 in 2017, including $99,887 of overtime.

Now let’s back up for just a moment and make something perfectly
clear. This isn’t about disrespecting firefighters in general, or Mr.
Roberts in particular. Quite the contrary. Firefighters perform
dangerous, challenging jobs that require years of intense training.
Every year in California, a few of them die in the line of duty. In some
years, more than a few. Furthermore, firefighters constantly witness
trauma, often horrific, every time they respond not only to fires, but
medical emergencies and automobile accidents. Their jobs are tough.

For these reasons, critics of public sector compensation trends
should always temper their observations with respect. It is far too easy
to observe, accurately, that many other jobs carry higher risk
of injury or death, while forgetting that first responders stand
between citizens and mayhem not just in normal times, but also in
extraordinary times. In a truly cataclysmic event, and 911 is a perfect
example, firefighters are obligated to occupy the front lines. They are the ones who must stop whatever destructive storms afflict our society. They are the ones who must go in before safety is restored, and rescue the stranded victims.

With that necessary preamble, and without diminishing it in any way, a
difficult conversation remains necessary regarding public sector
compensation, and the political power of the public sector unions who
push for continuous increases in compensation.

A California Policy Center analysis published nearly two years ago, using 2015 data, calculated the average pay and benefits for a California firefighter
at $196,370 for those employed by cites, $198,959 for those working for
counties, and $145,938 for those working for the state. Those averages
have not fallen in the past three years, and they do not include the
additional cost per firefighter, if and when their retirement pensions
are adequately funded.

Mr. Robert’s own City of Chula Vista provides an example of these
rising pension costs. In 2017 the average pay for a Chula Vista
firefighter was $189,715. That included, on average, $41,112 for
overtime and $31,381 for employer contributions to their defined benefit
pensions. But as they say, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Using CalPERS own projections for the City of Chula Vista, the
average normal contribution by the city to fund police and firefighter
pensions is expected to grow from 20 percent of payroll in FYE 6/30/2017
to 22 percent of payroll by FYE 6/30/2025. Nothing terribly dramatic
there. But, get this, the so-called unfunded contribution – that
additional amount necessary to pay down the city’s unfunded liability
for police and firefighter pensions – is expected to grow from 13
percent of payroll in FYE 6/30/2017 to 32 percent of payroll in
6/30/2025.

Put another way, the City of Chula Vista’s employer payments for
public safety pensions are going to go from 33 percent of payroll to 53
percent of payroll by 2025. And if the stock market decides to end its
already record breaking bull run, harming the CalPERS investment
portfolio, these payments will go much higher.

It’s also important to recognize the relationship between excess
overtime expenses and the cost of pension and health benefits (including
retirement health benefits). When public employers pay more than 50
percent above regular salary to fund pensions and benefits, and in the
case of public safety, they do, then it makes financial sense to pay
time-and-a-half to existing staff, since that will cost less. Lost in
that equation is the stress this excessive overtime inflicts on
overworked personnel, as well as the lost opportunity to bring benefit
overhead back below fifty percent.

Collectively California’s state and local employers, based on
projections already released from CalPERS, are going to have to increase
their total contributions to public employee pension funds from approximately $31 billion in 2017 to an estimated $59 billion by 2025.

Maybe veteran firefighters truly believe they are entitled to annual
pay and benefits packages in excess of $200,000 per year, or in Mr.
Roberts case, in excess of $300,000 per year. But with all the political
power these unions wield, they ought to be thinking of ways to help
lower the cost-of-living in California. That would help everyone.

And perhaps it may disturb even the most respectful and appreciative
among us, when a public servant who made $327,491 last year, asks us to
support higher taxes.

 *   *   *

Sources:

2017 Salaries for Chula Vista – Transparent California

California’s Public Sector Compensation Trends – California Policy Center, January 2017

Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, FYE 6/30/2017 – City of Chula Vista

Safety Plan of the City of Chula Vista, Annual Valuation Report as of 6/30/2017 – CalPERS

Miscellaneous Plan of the City of Chula Vista, Annual Valuation Report as of 6/30/2017 – CalPERS

2017 City Data, Government Compensation in California – California State Controller

California Government Pension Contributions Required to Double by 2024 – California Policy Center, January 2018

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