As we all know too well, there is a lot of fear-inducing “noise” about public employee retirement benefits. Sometimes the noise drowns out good news. A case in point: recently, there has been some very good news for California public employee retirees that you may not have heard about.
Two California Court of Appeal decisions contained very positive language about public retiree pensions. In discussing whether “reasonable” modifications that might reduce or eliminate certain aspects of a retirement benefit were constitutionally permissible, both court decisions made clear that retiree pension benefits may not be modified.
In the recent Marin County case, the appellate court said, “Our Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that [pension rights] may be modified prior to the employee’s retirement.” (Emphasis added). Marin Assn. of Public Employees v. Marin Co. Emp. Ret. Assn.
The other appellate court weighing in on the subject echoed this view. “[T]he governing body may make reasonable modifications and changes before the pension becomes payable...” (Emphasis added). Cal. Fire Local 2881 v. CalPERS.
While the California Supreme Court has the final word on the constitutionality of public employees’ pension rights, the language in these two decisions should be comforting news for retirees. There is nothing on the legal horizon that would jeopardize the payment of retirees' current benefits.
Since “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” my advice to San Diego County retirees is the same it always has been: relax and enjoy your retirement.
Click here to read my most recent report to the Board of Retirement.