Money talks

Apr 9, 2012

A two-house legislative committee is crafting a so-called "hybrid" pension plan for new state and local hires, a plan that includes a lower pension with a 401(k)-style investment setup. The political fight over pensions has been fierce, but in  the Capitol some form of hybrid is all but certain to have more traction than the alternatives, such as cutting benefits to current employees. The clock is ticking.


From CalPensions' Ed Mendel: "Brown’s proposal expected the hybrid plan to be developed after the legislation passed. His finance department told a hearing that outside experts would help develop a hybrid plan in about six months, before a Jan. 1, 2013, deadline in the legislation."


"The governor’s proposal is a retirement plan that replaces about 75 percent of annual income on the job after a 30-year career, with roughly a third each coming from the smaller pension, the investment plan and federal Social Security."


"If the worker is not in Social Security, the pension would be two-thirds of the retirement. A cap on the retirement plan would be based on the Social Security earnings limit, $110,000 this year.


The  word "bankruptcy" continues to float through the halls of municipal governments -- Stockton is near the edge, and Vallejo emerged from bankruptcy recently -- and the latest locale, believe it or not, is Los Angeles.  Whatever happens in L.A. is important to the rest of us: The county is home to a third of the electorate and the L.A. delegation dominates the Capitol.


From Rick Orlov in the L.A. Daily News: "The rise in the city's labor costs has not been as a result of increased employment levels, but rather increases in what the city spends on health care for employees, workers' compensation, employee compensation and retirement benefits," Santana said. There is an agreement to provide cost-of-living adjustments of 11 percent for the next two years and 11.75 percent for deputy city attorneys."


"It is not sustainable without further reductions to the workforce and essential public services," Santana said. "In addition, these increases create substantial compensation inequity within the workforce. This will result in significant pressure from other unions."


"Santana suggested the city look at developing a tiered pay system for new employees, similar to what is being done in the Police Department, where new hires are paid less than current workers."


Speaking of government employees, the state hired about 25 percent fewer employees last year, according to an analysis by the Sacramento Bee.


From the Bee's John Ortiz: "Controller's records analyzed by The Bee show the state hired 8,582 new workers in 2011, down from 11,407 during 2010, GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's last year in office. During the 14 months ending in February that Brown has been in office, the state hired 10,621 employees."


"About half of the first-timers to state civil service took full-time work. The rest filled lower-paying part-time, seasonal or temporary jobs without benefits."


The Capitol fight over redevelopment may be over, but the price tag continues to grow. One tangled example is in Felton, where taxpayers picked up a $1.5 million tab for botched affordable housing.


From Jason Hoppin and Kimberly White in the Santa Cruz Sentinel: "Months after the county committed the funding, the state Supreme Court ruled that underwriting a project can equate to official support. County supervisors backed off the project officially, but faced with the threat of a lawsuit, it agreed to provide most of the funding anyway."


"But without official support and with a terrible real estate market, the project was doomed. South County was eventually able to find a buyer for the property, but only for $1.5 million.That meant Local Initiatives Support Coalition, which works with low-income housing developers across the country (South County's Lalor is on a LISC board overseeing rural projects, according to group's website), could be out $1 million."


"What things were selling for in 2005 and what they're selling for now has gone down quite a bit," Lalor said."


It's all a question of taste, of course, and chowing down on bullfrogs is at the bottom of our list. But others feel differently: Millions of American bullfrogs are imported each year for their culinary delights. The problem is that a deadly fungus is showing up on the frogs.


From the Bay Citizen's John Upton: "The frog cost about $4. If it was sautéed, stir-fried or cooked in a clay pot and served with rice and vegetables, it could provide enough poultry-flavored white meat for a meal for at least two people."


"About 5 million live American bullfrogs are imported every year into the U.S., nearly two-thirds of which carry the chytrid fungus disease B.d., according to a 2009 paper in Biological Conservation. The frogs, pictured for sale in a tub in a San Francisco Chinatown market, carry but survive the pathogen, which they can spread to more susceptible species."


"...The chytrid skin fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or B.d., is harmless to humans but may have wiped out hundreds of amphibian species. Two other bullfrogs that The Bay Citizen bought from other Chinatown markets also tested positive...American bullfrogs are native to eastern North America but are reared in factory farms around the world. Two million bullfrogs are imported into the Bay Area every year, according to federal import records, and millions more are shipped to other major cities."


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