Damon Connolly on Pensions

I believe we need to work together to do more at the County level to ensure that the retirement system for our public employees is sustainable for the future.  I place tremendous value on the contributions public employees make to our County and I appreciate my strong relationship with the labor community.  I have been very focused on this issue as a San Rafael City Councilmember and I will bring those perspectives to my work as Supervisor.

According to a recent Grand Jury report, the County of Marin has a significant problem with unfunded liabilities for its retiree health care program.  We need to stabilize the County retiree health care system and make it sustainable for the long term.  In contrast, San Rafael’s reforms to retiree healthcare liabilities were singled out by the Grand Jury as a model. 

I’m concerned that the County has relied on $104 million in pension obligation bonds.  This is similar to borrowing against your credit card, sticking the money in your checking account, and then boasting about your balance.

San Rafael was the first city in Marin to achieve substantial pension reforms through its collective bargaining process.  Since I’ve been on the Council, San Rafael adopted a two-tiered pension system for new hires, including moving from 2.7% at 55 to 2% at 55 for non-safety workers, moving to a 3 year averaging, and reduced cost of living percentage.  We’re also at a point where other jurisdictions are being encouraged to move, including 3% at 55 for safety personnel and higher employee shares into their benefit plans.  We are also ensuring that year-over-year pension and retiree health obligations are being met out of the existing budget.

As your Supervisor, I would look at additional ideas such as capping higher pay-outs and curbing the practice double-dipping where employees receive both a pension from prior work and a current salary.

I do not believe that Counties should increase taxes and fees to fund or offset pension liabilities, nor should they defer necessary maintenance to fund pensions.  A case in point is how we have handled the issue in San Rafael. 

My colleagues and I made our positions clear recently when we advocated for the passage of Measure E in San Rafael in November 2013.  Concerns were voiced by some members of the public about whether raising the sales tax would simply create revenue that would be used to fund or offset pension liabilities.  In response, we made a promise to the public that those increased revenues would not be used for that purpose, but rather would be used for critical City needs like public safety infrastructure. 

I do not favor altering vested rights of current employees or breaking contracts that have been made with employees. 

If you have more specific questions, please email Damon at damon@damonconnolly.com.

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