California has allowed government employees to purchase years of service they do not actually perform, thus boosting their already generous pension benefits. The California Supreme Court has now ruled that government may rescind such “air time” but left intact the “California Rule” that bars any reduction of a pension benefit unless the government employee receives something of equal or greater value.
“The state and many amici urge us to use this decision as a vehicle to reduce the protection afforded pension rights by modifying or abandoning the California rule,” wrote the opinion by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, “while plaintiffs and many other amici urge us to leave the California Rule intact. Because we conclude that the opportunity to purchase ARS credit was not a term and condition of public employment protected from impairment by the contract clause, its elimination does not implicate the Constitution. For that reason, we have no occasion in this decision to address, let alone to alter, the continued application of the California Rule.”
In reality, as the California Globe notes, a 1955 Supreme Court ruling guarantees government employees the pensions in place the day they were hired. So the state’s high court missed the opportunity to make “important changes going forward” in a state where pension requirements “are going to roughly double in the next six years,” in a best-case scenario. Counties and cities are already cutting back on services to meet obligations.
Meanwhile, government employee unions parade outside the state capitol chanting “This is our house!” They can now assemble outside the Supreme Court in San Francisco chanting, “This is our court!” California taxpayers could be forgiven for believing that the state Supreme Court has become a robed politburo for pampered government employees.