Editorial: Sonoma County Stands Up for Sustainable Pensions

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat has kind words for Sonoma County leaders on their efforts to encourage meaningful pension reform.

The editorial comes at a time when the California Supreme Court is weighing the so-called “California Rule,” which guarantees existing retirees the public benefits promised at hire. That decision could be the most consequential to date for the sustainability of public pensions and the viability of some cities and counties.

In the meantime, Sonoma is one of the local governments that has been doing what it can to enact positive change. As the Democrat notes, County Counsel Bruce Goldstein filed an amicus brief co-authored by county supervisors last month calling for “more flexibility” in the pension system.

“Pension costs have increased dramatically and, as trending, are not sustainable,” according to the brief. “Unless the counties retain the ability to address these escalating costs they face the unconscionable choice of sacrificing services to the public for providing retirement benefits to employees.”

Last year, a county advisory committee said that by 2030 public retirement costs will consume more than $50 million in additional county expenses annually.

“This is a key juncture for the state as cities and counties across California continue to struggle with retirement obligations, despite nearly 10 years of strong returns on pension investments,” the Democrat’s editorial reads. “While Sonoma County says its retirement obligations are 85 percent funded, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the nation’s largest public pension fund, has only about 68 percent of the assets needed to cover its liabilities. The state’s contribution to the CalPERS system is twice what it was eight years ago, and neither the state nor local agencies are prepared for a downturn in the economy. Public agencies will never be able to invest their way out of this crisis. They need help, and the state Supreme Court is in the best position to provide it.

“Kudos to Sonoma County for taking the right stand on this issue.”


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