Is it really a surprise that California is going broke?
Approaching retirement, Ventura County Chief Executive Marty Robinson was earning $228,000 a year.
To boost her pension, which would be based on her final salary, Robinson cashed out nearly $34,000 in unused vacation pay, an $11,000 bonus for having earned a graduate degree and more than $24,000 in extra pension benefits the county owed her.
By the time she walked out the door last year, her pension was calculated at $272,000 a year — for life.
Robinson, 62, is among a group of public employees who have increased their retirement paychecks by adding such things as vacation time, educational incentives, car allowances and bonuses to their final salaries.
Such "salary spiking" was banned in 1993 by CalPERS, the state's largest public employee retirement system, to help control spiraling costs. But 20 of California's 58 counties — including Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange and San Diego — do not participate in CalPERS and their employees may legally continue to spike their salaries.
The scope of the practice is unclear because counties have resisted releasing complete pension data, citing the difficulty and cost of assembling the information.
But an analysis by The Times of partial data from Ventura and Kern counties — two small windows into the problem — shows that spiking is affecting pension systems already staggered by massive obligations.
In Ventura County, where the pension system is underfunded by $761 million, 84% of the retirees receiving more than $100,000 a year are receiving more than they did on the job. In Kern County, 77% of retirees with pensions greater than $100,000 a year are getting more now than they did before.