Press Release Contact: Trinda Lundholm Sept. 30, 2011 (916) 326-4262
California’s largest state retiree organization has a new name and a new attitude about standing up to public pension critics
Representatives of the largest state retiree organization in California said today that they will step up their efforts to speak out against critics who unjustly attack their pensions and distort facts for political gain.
“State pensioners do not own yachts and travel the world,” said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, at the Friday morning press conference at the Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) in Sacramento.
Dickinson, who represents more state retirees and workers than any other state legislator, said it distresses him when they are unfairly targeted “by people who don’t really have the facts or choose to ignore the facts to support their own political agendas.”
The reality is that the average state retiree has a pension of about $25,000 a year after serving the state for what is typically two or three decades. Half of CalPERS retirees receive less than 18,000 a year. Three-quarters of CalPERS retirees collect yearly pensions of $36,000 or less.
Dickinson also pointed out that public employee pensions amount to just 3 percent of California’s budget and public employees earlier this year agreed to pay more into their pensions and accepted other changes that will save the state $600 million over two years.
Roger Marxen, the president California State Retirees – which represents 31,000 state retirees – noted that state retirements have increased significantly over the last 10 years and the trend is expected to continue as baby boomers hit retirement age.
Five years ago, about 23,000 CalPERS members retired. In the most recent 2010-2011 fiscal year, about 31,000 members retired – about a 35 percent increase. CalPERS estimates about 30,000 CalPERS members will retire every year over the next 10 years.
“Our ranks are growing and we will become stronger. We can no longer turn the other cheek when our very livelihoods are threatened,” Marxen said. “We may be retired, but we are not inactive. The public will soon see that we are becoming even more active in our own defense.”
To help attract some the new retirees, California State Retirees – formerly known as CSEA Retirees, Inc. – this month legally changed its name to attract state retirees from all state departments and agencies, not just those who had previously worked in bargaining units represented by CSEA. Any state retiree who collects a CalPERS pension – including engineers, physicians, firefighters and more – is eligible to become a member of California State Retirees.
“Even state retirees who already belong to a retiree organization should consider joining California State Retirees to increase their pension security and knowledge about the various attacks from public pension critics,” Marxen said.
Henry Jones, who represents retirees on the CalPERS Board of Administration, showed the press conference participants a giant “CalPERS Pension Buck,” to illustrate how every pension dollar is funded.
“The beauty of pensions is that most of the money paid out in benefits comes from investment earnings,” Jones said.
The most recent CalPERS data shows that investment earnings account for 64 cents of every dollar paid in CalPERS benefits. Members contribute 15 cents on the dollar, which leaves just 21 cents on the dollar paid by employers.
“This is the story that we should be telling our friends, neighbors and policy makers,” said Jones. “This is why defined benefit pensions are the most cost-effective way of providing retirees with a reliable retirement income.”
Susan Sears, the executive vice president of California State Retirees, said that one of the reasons why state retirees are targeted is because they haven’t been vocal enough when they hear untruths or exaggerations about state retirees and their pensions.
“It’s time that we refuse to be the scapegoat for the political gain of others, Sears said. “We’re going to retire the scapegoat, but he will retire with a fair pension and dignity.”
Assemblyman Dickinson on Friday also presented a Joint Legislative Resolution from himself and Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, honoring California State Retirees for its nearly 80 years of protecting state pensions and health care for retirees who have earned and deserve them.
With its more inclusionary name, California State Retirees makes it clear that all state retirees can join. The dues rate is between $1 to $10 a month, depending on a retiree’s monthly CalPERS warrant.
Besides representation before the Legislature and CalPERS, members of the California State Retirees also receive a monthly, 16-page newspaper mailed to their homes and many other benefits, such as discounted entertainment tickets, insurance policies and travel coverage.
The name and mission aren’t the only things changing at California State Retirees. A wide-ranging membership campaign to bolster the ranks and strength of state retirees is underway. And board members are considering the purchase of a larger, more accessible building in Sacramento. Keep up with the improvements and changes at California State Retirees by checking out the new website at www.californiastateretirees.org.
(If you would like written testimony or jpgs from the press conference, please call Trinda Lundholm at the number above.)