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June 12, 2009



Option 1 is the correct approach, EXCEPT it should be rolled back to some amount that is LESS THAN the private sector. Otherwise there is no way to measure whether the roll back goes far enough and is in parity with the private sector unless that roll back sees civil servants start leaving positions for the private sector. That is basic.

And actually any amount of rollback will produce disgruntled employees who will not be productive so the rollback should might as well encourage them to leave to be replaced with employees that we taxpayers can afford.

This is harsh, but it is very important that we end up with a sustainable system from the crisis.


This is from today's Daily Journal article. I hope you can make sense of it. It's too disjointed for me to follow what the impact on the budget situation is:

Clerical/technical employees, which includes many city staff positions and park employees approved the freeze for next year, said Sharon McAleavey, business agent for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees who is working with the Burlingame employees. Public works employees did not approve the freeze. None of the employees OK’d increases to their out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Monday night’s approval included saving a park maintenance position previously slated to be cut. In addition, negotiations are under way to save a tree maintenance worker position, McAleavey said.

All departments were on the chopping block.

The fire department, for example, will have a nearly $1 million loss, or 9.6 percent, with the closure of the station in conjunction with other reductions. Really reducing overtime comes into play to make the cuts possible.

Parks and Recreation is slated to have a 14 percent drop in funding, mostly to maintenance. More than $500,000 in savings will come from positions.

Other cuts range from cutting travel, conferences and training for staff, elected officials and those who hold commission seats. Cutting funding to the Burlingame trolley will save the city $110,000. One fire truck could not run when three or more personnel are on leave, saving the city $464,000. Reducing office supplies in most departments will also be considered. Closing the Easton library branch at 2 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. on Fridays will save $11,000. Eliminating a police officer position means a savings of $166,000.

More to follow in putting all the pieces together.


Unfortunately, someone got the wrong information in the newspaper. The newspaper states the article was only written by a staff writer, therefore no individual reporter can be contacted for a retraction. They do not state the name of the reporter, nor is the information printed in the San Mateo Daily Journal correct.

Many public works employees waived a 3% salary increase. The paper states public works employees did not approve a freeze.

I would certainly question a paper who cannot accurately report the news.

The article fails to mention other specific bargaining units which are still in negotiations and when and if those units will accept a wage freeze.

I can only say the article lacked facts, left out important information and failed to provide the public a truthful and accurate account of which employees and bargaining unions have agreed to to wage and salary freezes.

what are we waiting for

News stations are reporting that a UofP study says California is not out of the woods yet. It says (Stockton, Calif.) June 24, 2009 – Job losses in California will top 1 million before the
recession ends this fall according to the latest California and Metro Forecast released today by
the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific. Over the next few months, the
pace of private sector employment declines will slow as state and local government layoffs
begin. Unemployment is forecast to peak at 12.3% in early 2010 and remain in double digits
until the end of 2011.

Should Burlingame be ahead of the pack on the layoffs. ISn't it better to just get it over with.

Holy Roller

Shouldn't people who work for the City of Burlingame be able to live in Burlingame?
Shouldn't the people who work in Burlingame be able to have their children go to school in Burlingame?
(Business licence)
I know people are fed up with the finacial mess this City, County, State, and Country are in.
However, to take swipes at the people who make this City what it is, is really dispicable.
It took years for things to funnel down into the mess the US is in.
Everyone single person has contributed to the present day enviorment.
When we start pointing fingers at each other for the place we find ourselves in; start looking at yourselves.
It is not the teacher, Muslum, Mexican,the public servant that has caused crisis. It is the lazy people that will not contribute their wisdom, vote, or compassion to change.
You see the revolution in Iran.
Where is "Our Heart"?

Holy Roller

There was an article in the Post yesterday about the labor protests in Palo Alto, and the pay of the employees that work there.
The Post seems to have an agenda regarding public employee wage and benefit packages.
However, The Post continually puts up headlines that are fabrications, and exagerations of the truth.
It is really difficult to understand what is behind the energy.
For exapmle, in the article,(06/30/09)The Post stated that the average city employee of Palo Alto recieves $73,000.00 per year, not including benifits.
Being an angry out of work person,sick of taxes, etc, it would seem that this is extravagant.
What The Post has done is manipulate people into receiving information in "sound bites".
The reality being, The Post has taken the Fire/Police/Upper Managment pay/benefits, and mixed it with the street cleaner, sewage repair people and park maintenance workers, and daycare teachers.
This type of reporting is unethical. This newspaper has some sort of agenda/political direction it driving readers towards.
Please do not support this "bird cage rag."

Account Deleted

Interesting briefing on the subject from this week's Economist magazine:

Public-sector pensions

Unsatisfactory state

Jul 9th 2009 | LONDON AND NEW YORK
From The Economist print edition

As workers in the private sector are losing their final-salary pensions, public employees are being shielded from the true cost of provision for old age

Illustration by Belle Mellor

PENSIONS are expensive to provide. People are living longer, investment returns over the past decade have been dismal and interest rates are low. All this makes a given annual payment costlier to fund. In the private sector, employers are balking at the cost of defined benefit (DB) schemes, in which pensioners are paid a proportion of their final salaries. Many have been shut to new members or discontinued altogether. In Britain, closed DB schemes outnumber open ones by almost three to one.

In the public sector, however, final-salary schemes live on. In part this may be because of a conscious decision to reward workers in vital services such as the armed forces and the police. However, it may also be because the true cost of those pension promises is not being properly allowed for. “Governments are not accounting for what they have promised in the past and are understating what workers are being promised for the future,” says John Prior of Punter Southall, a firm of actuaries.

Public-sector schemes face broadly the same costs as private ones. Government employees are living longer, just as private-sector workers are, and their wages are rising too. But the cost is being disguised, not tackled. This has two consequences. The first is that the public sector is building up an immense future liability that the next generation’s taxpayers will be required to meet. The second is that public employees are getting a much better deal than their private-sector counterparts—even if the government is not accounting for it. In Britain the gap may amount to 30% of salaries.

Although pension schemes differ from one country to another, many governments are facing similar problems, even if they do not acknowledge them. But the gap between the public and private sectors seems widest in America and Britain. The strain is already beginning to tell. The British government is suggesting that local councils may be given leeway in deciding how fully they should fund their pension schemes. If they had to eliminate their shortfall, taxes could soar. In America, state and local DB plans have seen the assets in their funds lose $1 trillion in value since October 2007.

In Britain some national schemes are “unfunded”: that is to say, the government does not put aside a specific pot of cash to meet its liability to its employees. Instead, it vows to meet the cost out of future taxation. Such “pay-as-you-go” schemes, as they are known, are rather like the pyramid schemes made famous by Charles Ponzi, a 1920s swindler, in that they need a continuous stream of new investors to meet the claims of the old ones. (Of course, many basic state old-age pensions work in the same way.)

Other schemes, particularly those on offer from local governments, are funded rather like a company pension scheme. Contributions from employers and employees go into a pot, which is used to buy assets—shares, bonds and so forth. Over the scheme’s life the income from these assets is used to meet the pension payments.

You can quibble about whether there is truly an economic difference between funded and unfunded pensions when, for example, funded American government schemes put money into Treasury bonds. Such schemes still depend on future taxpayers to pay the interest (and repay the capital) on the bonds. There is also something rather odd about the government issuing bonds with one hand and buying them with another—in effect, borrowing from itself. But with a funded scheme it is at least easier to account for the cost.

If a private-sector final-salary scheme runs short of money, it is up to the employer to make higher contributions. In theory the cost may eventually overwhelm the company, which is why both Britain and America have insurance schemes designed to protect workers if employers default. But public-sector pension schemes are generally exempt from the same accounting and regulatory pressures as their private-sector counterparts. In Britain, for example, the Pensions Regulator cannot force the government to top up its contributions, as it can with companies.

That makes it important to account properly for the cost of public-sector pensions. In cash terms, the answer is simple; add up the payments being made to pensioners and subtract the contributions coming in from employers and employees. But that ignores the cost of the promise of future benefits to those still in work. In most schemes, the number of existing and deferred employees (those who have left but are still owed a pension) far exceeds the number of pensioners.

Because these promises fall due only in the future and because $100 now is worth more than $100 in a year’s time, they need to be discounted to calculate their present value. The choice of discount rate is crucial. The higher the rate, the lower the apparent size of the liabilities—and the size is highly sensitive to the assumed rate.

What is the right rate? In America the Government Accounting Standards Board requires public DB plans to estimate their liabilities with a rate that reflects the expected return on their assets. The average rate they use is 8%.

Allowing states to use their expected rate of return potentially encourages investment in riskier, higher-yield assets. In a paper last year Robert Novy-Marx and Joshua Rauh, of the University of Chicago, found that if states put their pension assets into a highly geared S&P 500 exchange-traded fund (an extremely risky portfolio), the implied discount rate would yield a “surplus” big enough to pay off all outstanding state bonds and provide a $5,000 dividend to every American citizen.

From an economic perspective, using the expected rate of return makes little sense. The liabilities will not go away if the expected rate of return fails to materialise. Instead, pensions can be thought of as bond-like liabilities, requiring the employer to make a series of payments far into the future. In the private sector, companies are required to discount their liabilities by the yield on AA corporate bonds; the rate reflects the cost of their borrowing and allows for the possibility that the company defaults on its promise.

Although companies may default, it seems odd for a government to make pension promises and then use accounting methods that assume it may fail to keep them. In America, for example, state and local pension benefits are guaranteed by law in many states. That suggests the discount rate should be the Treasury bond yield, considered the risk-free rate.

Mr Novy-Marx and Mr Rauh (who is now at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University) estimated the accrued liabilities of the 116 largest state and local-government pension plans using the risk-free rate. They found the plans were underfunded by $3.12 trillion, more than three times the states’ estimate. This figure dwarfs the states’ combined municipal debt of $940 billion.

Even on the generous existing accounting basis, the funds look short. Alicia Munnell, director of the Centre for Retirement Research at Boston College, believes that before the credit crunch most public plans were well-funded on that basis—meaning that their assets covered more than 80% of their liabilities. But now she thinks the average plan has a funding level of just 65%.

In Britain the vast majority of central-government schemes are unfunded. This includes those covering the National Health Service, the civil service, teachers and the armed forces. The government charges departments a notional amount each year to cover the increase in future liabilities. In calculating this charge, it uses a discount rate of 3.5% after inflation.

This rate is hard to justify. It cannot be the expected return on assets, since the schemes have no assets to invest. Indeed, when the government calculates the cost of pensions for other purposes, it uses a different rate, which varies from year to year but is now 2.5% in real terms.

Even this may be too high. As a report by the British North-American Committee (BNAC), a group of businessmen, academics and parliamentarians, points out, when a scheme is unfunded, the employer is, in effect, avoiding the cost of borrowing the money to fund the plan. This means the right discount rate should be the cost of government borrowing. The BNAC argues that since British pensions are inflation-linked, the index-linked gilt yield is appropriate. This is only around 1% in real terms.

The BNAC reckons that, on the government numbers, British public-sector pension liabilities are 64% of GDP. At the index-linked discount rate, they are 85%. The difference is even more stark if one calculates how much the government should be charging departments for their pension schemes. At the moment, this charge is 18% of payroll; were it discounting at the index-linked rate, it would be 44% (see chart 1).

Are the BNAC’s calculations realistic? Some, including Paul Samuelson, an eminent American economist, would argue that the ability to pay public-sector pensions derives from the power of the government to levy taxes, which in turn is limited by the rate of economic growth. That may be 2-2.5% (real) in Britain, which would produce a much lower figure for pension liabilities than the BNAC estimate. But the future economic growth rate is unknown, whereas the bond yield is set by the market every day.

One test of the pension cost comes from the Bank of England’s funded DB pension scheme, which slipped into deficit in recent years. The bank has decided to invest purely in index-linked gilts (so assets and liabilities are matched). Its contributions have risen from 41% to 54% of payroll as it tries to eliminate the shortfall.

Outsourcing of public services creates another useful test. When British workers are transferred from the public to the private sector, their pension rights are shifted with them. The Confederation of British Industry, an employers’ organisation, says that private companies find their pension costs are around double those allowed for by the public sector before transfer. The discount rate is not the only reason. Governments also underestimate the longevity of their employees.

In America, the full cost of final-salary pension promises may also be understated. The BNAC report estimates that for all American public-sector schemes (federal and local), the assumed contribution rate by employers is 18% of payroll. If the Treasury yield were used as the discount rate, that would rise to 29%.

Public versus private
The result of all this is that the total benefits of public-sector workers differ significantly from those of employees in private-sector companies. Around 4.9m British public employees are in open DB schemes, compared with just 1.3m private-sector staff. Around 85% of public employees are members of a pension scheme of some sort, against only 40% in the private sector. Among low-paid employees—earning between £100 ($160) and £200 a week—20% of private-sector workers are in a scheme, compared with 70% in the public sector.

If private-sector workers do get a pension, they are now more likely, especially if they are new to a job, to be in a defined contribution (DC) scheme, where the final pension depends on investment performance. This is clearly more risky from the employee’s point of view than a guaranteed proportion of final salary. Furthermore, employers tend to pay in less: around 6.5% of payroll. Although DC employees chip in a further 2.7%, less than the typical contribution of a public-sector worker, that still means the public employee is benefiting from much higher deferred pay (which is what a pension is) than his private-sector counterpart.

The gap is hard to measure because some public-sector schemes are unfunded. But the BNAC estimates that the implied gap in benefit rates is as much as 30% of salary. The Pensions Policy Institute (PPI), a think-tank, using a different discount rate, calculates a gap of between 10% and 30% (see chart 2).

This should be allowed for when private- and public-sector pay rates are compared. In Britain the mean private-sector salary in 2008 was £27,408, against £23,943 in public service. But the mean is inflated by the high wages of investment bankers and so forth. The median public-sector employee is better paid. Once you allow for pension rights, he is even further ahead.

A further disparity is that public-sector workers tend to retire young. The average retirement age for state workers in Ohio is just 57. The normal retirement age for many plans is less than 62, and workers become eligible for retirement at 50. Fire-fighters and police officers often are able to retire with full benefits, sometimes on as much as 90% of their final salaries, before reaching middle age.

Normally, DB plans adjust benefits for early retirement so benefits are lower. But states often limit the size of those benefit reductions. That means taxpayers can subsidise early retirement for public employees. It stands in stark contrast to private-sector workers with DC plans, who will now probably end up working longer than they had anticipated.

Paying the bill
Trade unions tend to regard such arguments simply as an excuse to attack poorly paid public-sector workers. In Britain the Trades Union Congress points out that the average pension received by ex-local government workers is a mere £4,000 a year. The answer to the disparity between private- and public-sector pensions is to upgrade the former, not downgrade the latter, in the unions’ view.

They also regard the question of the discount rate as an accounting chimera. The government does not have to meet its full pension liability upfront. What really counts is the cash cost of meeting pension benefits. The PPI estimates that the cost of paying for unfunded British national schemes will rise from 1% to 1.4% of GDP by 2027-28. That sum involves a lot of guesswork about the future size of the public sector, pay, longevity and GDP growth, but it sounds a lot more manageable than the liability of 85% of GDP cited by the BNAC. Some independent experts, such as John Hawksworth of PricewaterhouseCoopers, an accounting firm, also think the current cost is more important than the present value of the future liability.

Trade unions are also opposed to raising the retirement age for public-sector workers. They feel this is particularly unfair for the lower-paid, who tend to have shorter life expectancy. Indeed, raising the retirement age is far from the whole answer. Benefits would be paid over a shorter period, cutting the cost of a pension, but more benefits would accrue with more years of service, raising it. Mr Rauh estimates that increasing the normal retirement age in America by one year would reduce expected liabilities by just $200 billion, a smallish sum next to the total.

Switching to DC schemes would help reduce costs, although it would be unpopular with employees. Michigan and Alaska are the only states that offer only a DC plan to new staff. Indiana and Oregon require employees to participate in both a DC and a DB plan, and eight states allow a choice between the two types. Even a complete move to DC plans for all future pension entitlements will not reduce the cost of promises already made.

The absence of a painless solution may simply encourage governments to push the bill further into the never-never. The British local-government ministry sent a consultation letter to local authorities last month. In a section headed “a possible new approach to solvency”, it suggests authorities may be given “flexibility” about whether even to aim for a funding level of 100%. Private-sector companies are not allowed such flexibility.

At the last reckoning in March 2007, the assets of British local-authority schemes were reckoned to be worth 84% of liabilities (in present-value terms). Given market movements since then, Watson Wyatt, a firm of actuarial consultants, estimates that the funding level may have fallen to 50-60%. Even repairing that deficit over 20 years would require pension contributions of around a third of council-tax revenues, meaning big cuts in services or big increases in tax. Unsurprisingly these are things the government is anxious to avoid.

In America Norm Jones, an independent actuary, reckons that if the stockmarket does not return to pre-crisis levels in a few years states will have to make big contributions to restore their plans to healthy funding levels. Some may need to receive injections of 50% of payroll. In many states, by law, employees’ contribution rates may not be raised, nor their benefits cut. That places the burden on taxpayers.

This will not happen overnight. When states estimate funding levels, they typically take a five-year average of the market value of their assets. They can also amortise their unfunded liabilities over 30 years. So contribution rates will probably not rise until 2011, and then only gradually.

All that is achieved by such machinations is to increase the potential tax bill of future generations—the same generations that will also have to pay higher health-care and pension costs of their own, and meet the interest bills on the government deficits being run up in the face of the credit crunch. It is not much of a legacy.


Thanks, Lorne. This lengthy article can be summed up in one sentence: Public employees have pension plans that are "heads, I win and tails, I still win."

When times are good, the employees are promised earlier and earlier retirement ages and bigger and bigger percentages of their last salary. When times are bad -- well, we'll just provide less infrastructure and services and tax you more. No risk, all reward.

Holy Roller

Well guess what Joanne, the same exact thing happens in the private sector.
Resulting in higher prices for commodittes.
So how would you regulate that?

By the way, do you have a job that supports a family?
Not your husband, you. Not your trust fund or families money, yours.
What are you contributing to society besides complints?
ie Morgatge, health benifits, tranportation, food and clothing?
How do you pay for it?
How will you support yourself when you retire?


Whoa, Nelly. I'm guessing you don't have a clue how the private sector works. When times are bad and revenues go down you cut costs ruthlessly and lay off management and hourly as needed. You struggle with whether or not to cut advertising and guess wrong half the time. You cut travel. Cut overhead.

If you knew what a commodity was you would know their prices go down in a recession, duh. Why do you think people watch Alcoa's earnings report every quarter--they go first and they are a pure commodity business. Fool.

Holy Roller

When times are good, or at least we are told they are good,(EnRon, Madoff, etc)all employess, in private sector and especially management feed well at the trough.
Prices rise because 'we the people" can pay more. More profits for the same product(commodity) even though the product still costs the same as it did when times were not good.
I am sorry to hear about your loss at Alcoa.


Once you cut off the view of the hills, we might as well be living in Wichita.

Let's look at the recent large buildings blocking the views of the hills: Hospital, unfinished senior-housing on Trousdale, Walgreens.

What's next? Oh yeah, "Transit-Oriented" housing sandcastles as in Millbrae.("Huge Discounts!")

Oh- and the Burlin' Wall of the HSR for the exiled Eastside Residers.


What views are the new Walgreens blocking?

What views will the new long awaited Safeway building block?

We are not living in the 50s - we have to adapt to new situations, new ideas and - heaven to heck - living in the 21st Century.

Yes even in Burlingame!

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