The 100K Club

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The 100K Club

What do a UC professor, disgraced college chancellor, globe-trotting city manager, and corrupt sheriff have in common? They’re making the big bucks in retirement thanks to out-of-control public pensions.

25 UC Retirees Receive Annual Pensions Exceeding $300,000

Twenty-five University of California retirees receive more than $300,000 annually in retirement, the California Policy Center has learned. The information, contained in documents released to CPC through a public records request, comes amidst controversy over excessive compensation at the UC system and revelations of a secret slush fund at the system’s headquarters. The highest paid pensioner is Professor Lewis L. Judd, a UC San Diego Psychiatry professor. He receives an annual pension of $385,765.

While Retired City Manager Golfs, New Americans in El Monte Struggle to Make Ends Meet

Over a fourth of El Monte’s residents live in poverty, but, among public-sector workers poverty is unlikely. Retired City Manager James Mundessen told the LA Times that he personally receives $216,000 a year in retirement – an amount that finances a lavish lifestyle that includes golfing trips in Scotland. Mundessen is one of eight city officials collecting over $200,000 per year.

Convicted or Not, L.A. Sheriff Baca Will Collect a Big Pension

Leroy “Lee” Baca, the man served for 16 years as L.A. County’s top cop, has admitted to charges of lying to the FBI in a coverup of inmate abuse at the county jail. But even if convicted, the retired Los Angeles County Sheriff will continue to receive retirement benefits – today valued at more than $342,000 annually. A conviction would put him in a unique position to corner the prison commissary.

How to Get Rich by Teaching at UC

They may not have won a Nobel Prize, but California taxpayers and students are awarding ten retired University of California professors an attractive consolation prize: pension benefits amounting to more than $300,000 each per year. Topping the list of UC pension beneficiaries is Fawzy I. Fawzy, M.D. a Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA. He received over $354,000 in 2020, an amount that will continue to grow each year with cost of living increases. Recently, Dr. Fawzy generously helped his junior colleagues by explaining their compensation and pension benefits in a lecture uploaded to YouTube. His knowledge of the ins and outs of the UC payroll and retirement systems is truly impressive.

Average “Full Career” CalPERS Retirement Package Worth $70,000 Per Year

“‘What makes the ‘$100,000 Club’ some magic number denoting abuse other than the claims of anti-pension zealots?’ said Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, a coalition of 1.6 million public workers and retirees.” This quote from a government union spokesperson, and others, were dutifully collected as part of Orange County Register reporter Teri […]

The ‘100K Club’ – public retirees with pensions over $100,000 – are a growing group

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Back in 2005, just 1,841 retirees pulled down more than $100,000 a year in pension checks from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

A decade later, membership in the so-called $100K Club had swelled by nearly 20,000 souls.

CalPERS data provided to the conservative-leaning group Transparent California, and analyzed by the Register, found that 21,652 public retirees received annual benefits of more than $100,000 in 2020.

That’s a jump of 28 percent in just two years – which might seem jarring at first blush, but actually represents a slowdown in the club’s explosive growth of late. Between 2005 and 2009, membership in CalPERS’ $100K Club tripled. Then, between 2009 and 2020, it nearly tripled again, largely a function of higher working salaries and more generous retirement formulas.

Orange County landed just one retired worker on the Top 25 statewide: Dave Ream, longtime Santa Ana city manager, at $263,202. Los Angeles-area cities, special districts and universities dominated the Top 25.

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Tracking this number is a controversial endeavor.

“What makes the ‘$100,000 Club’ some magic number denoting abuse other than the claims of anti-pension zealots?” said Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, a coalition of 1.6 million public workers and retirees.

“The classifications in the ‘club’ are doctors, lawyers, hospital administrators, city managers, superintendents, college chancellors and presidents, etc., who are often earning far less than their counterparts in the private sector,” Low said.

The average CalPERS pension is less than one-third of that, said Amy Morgan, spokeswoman for CalPERS.

But advocates for major public pension reform cite the $100K Club boom as evidence that the system – which guarantees payouts for life, regardless of whether CalPERS has enough money – is unsustainable over the long haul and must be revamped to protect taxpayers, who are ultimately on the hook.

“What this information does is remove the shroud that defines public pensions and lets people see what things cost,” said Robert Fellner, research director for Transparent California.

“Contrary to the incredibly misleading averages they cite – which include people who worked for just a couple of years but still get a pension, which pulls down the average – you see the benefits are rich when you look at the folks who worked a full career. There aren’t people who work a full career and get the average pension.”

Our spin through the data shows that the average pension for retirees with 25 or more years of service – roughly one-third of the people in the system – was $55,189.

CalPERS has pointed out that the $100K Club has remained relatively stable at 2 percent to 3 percent of the total pool of retirees through the years. In 2020, we calculated the club at 2.9 percent of all retirees; for 2020, we calculated it at 3.5 percent.

“Measuring the percentage increase is an absurd measure, as the number was low and continues to be so as part of the overall workforce,” said Steven Maviglio, spokesman for Californians for Retirement Security. “Of the top earners, these employees tend to be upper management or public safety workers who have put substantial hours of OT on the job – and have no Social Security.”

Unlike in the private sector, about 29 percent of CalPERS retirees don’t get Social Security benefits, said Morgan, CalPERS’ spokeswoman, so their CalPERS pension may be their sole source of retirement income.

Though pension reforms for new hires enacted in 2020 will eventually make it much harder to crack the $100K Club – even for upper management – it will take decades before those new hires retire, and the effects are seen.

That means membership in the club will keep growing, “if for no other reason (than) because salaries will go up over time,” Low said.

Transparent California found that, in all, 1,495 Orange County retirees collected benefits worth at least $100,000, an 11 percent increase from last year.

The list is dominated at the top by city managers, but public safety officers largely round it out.

In California, public pension promises are considered etched in stone and cannot be altered, at least not outside of federal bankruptcy court.

Most cities and special districts in Orange County – and statewide – contract with CalPERS to run their retirement systems. It covers all state workers as well. CalPERS is the largest public retirement system in the world and largely viewed as a bellwether and a trendsetter.

Climbing unfunded liabilities, weak investment earnings and expectations for less-robust earnings over the next 30 years are fueling cries for reform.

“The next governor will have a big job on his/her hands,” said state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, long a pension-reform warrior. “And if the nation enters its next recession, the situation will get even bleaker.”


$100,000 Club: More than 9,000 state workers earn six figures

More than 9,000 people in Pennsylvania state government earned $100,000 or more in 2020, according to PennLive.

There are now 9,071 state workers in the $100,000 club, an increase of 781 from last year. It’s the highest number since PennLive and The Patriot-News first began tracking the six-figure earners in state government in 1997.

All of the members of the $100,000 club gathered together would come close to filling the Giant Center in Hershey. The arena holds 10,500, so there would be a little more than 1,400 seats left empty.

If they congregated at FNB Stadium on City Island in Harrisburg, it would be way more people than the 6,187-seat stadium could handle.

Roughly speaking, it translates to about one in every 10 state government workers earning $100,000 or more, according to PennLive’s analysis of compensation data provided by the governor’s Office of Administration, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, and state agencies. That is up from 1 in every 13 employees in 2020.

Membership in state government’s $100,000 Club has grown by 9 percent over the 8,290 who had six-figure earnings the prior year and 18 percent since Gov. Tom Wolf took office in 2020.

Earnings for this report may represent more than salary. They can include unused leave payouts, overtime, bonuses, longevity payments, grievance awards, summer school teaching assignments, and more.

The other thing to keep in mind is all of the earnings, regardless of the form of compensation they take, are paid with public funds. The source of that money may include tax dollars, agency earnings, fines, and federal funds, to name a few.

The highest earner last year is the Public School Employees’ Retirement System’s chief investment officer James Grossman, who typically has been among state government’s highest earners. But this is the first time his earnings have topped $400,000. The $413,389 he earned last year reflects his salary as the agency offers no bonuses or longevity payments, according to its spokeswoman Evelyn Williams.

There were 23 other state government employees who earned more than $300,000 last year, an increase from 16 in 2020. And 160 employees earned between $200,000 and $300,000, which is 41 more than in the prior year.

Certainly, though, the vast majority of the 96,300 workers employed by the state’s three branches of government earn less than $100,000.

According to the governor’s Office of Administration workforce data, the average salary for employees who work under the governor’s jurisdiction for last year was $56,857. That includes a range of average salaries from a low of $43,649 for the Liquor Control Board to a high of $76,745 for the state police.

The median household income for Pennsylvania for 2020, the most recent year U.S. Census data is available, was $56,951.

Gov. Tom Wolf was paid $189,672, which his spokesman said he donated entirely to charity.

Still, while Wolf has the highest salary among his Cabinet members, he only ranks as being the 259th highest earner in all of state government.

Professors, doctors, judges, the House of Representatives parliamentarian, state troopers, university presidents, even a deputy attorney general all had earnings that topped what he made.

Because this is a point that readers have brought up in the past, Penn State, Pitt and Temple – three of the state’s largest universities – are not included in this earnings analysis because they are not part of state government.

Those universities do receive state funding. It makes up just a small percentage of their total budget. Still, they are considered state-related universities, not state-owned like the 14 universities in the State System of Higher Education. And yes, Penn State ‘s head football coach James Franklin earned $4.8 million – more than 11 times more than Grossman, the highest state government earner.

The percentage growth in six-figure earners in the commonwealth workforce appears to be higher than that of Pennsylvania taxpayers with incomes of $100,000, said labor economist Mark Price from the Keystone Research Center. Still, on the surface, it doesn’t raise any red flags for him when educational attainment and other “human capital characteristics” of the state government workforce are taken into account.

Considering that many of the higher income earners in state government are professionals with skill levels that could command higher pay in the private sector and that some of the earnings may include one-time payouts, Price said it doesn’t jump out to him as a concern.

After all, he said the state government has to offer competitive salaries to attract and retain highly skilled professionals, such as doctors and engineers, who could make more in the private sector.

“But if I find people sitting on commissions pulling down big dollars, I might hesitate a little bit,” he said. “But from our look into this and a lot of other economists’ look at this over time, the general consensus is when you control for educational attainment and human capital characteristics, public sector workers earn lower wages, ignoring benefits, than what comparable workers would capture in the private sector.”

But the public sector makes up for it by providing a benefits package that is typically better than those offered in the private sector.

According to an analysis of state and federal labor data by the Commonwealth Foundation, the benefits cost for a state government employee averaged $45,793 last year compared to $29,848 for a private sector employee. As a percentage, it found the average state government employees’ benefits package represented 45 percent of their total compensation, compared to 34 percent for the average private sector employees.

“Often, more expensive benefits packages are justified saying that ‘public sector workers make a sacrifice’ in terms of lower pay to work in government — but given the number of highly salaried state workers, that isn’t really the case,” said Nathan Benefield, the Commonwealth Foundation’s vice president and chief operating officer.

Given that, he said the trend of six-figure earners is “problematic.”

Some highlights from the 2020 earnings analysis include:

  • Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Saylor was the highest earner among the state elected officials, earning $211,665. That doesn’t even place him in the top 100; he was the 137th highest earner.
  • State Treasurer Joe Torsella, who is the custodian of the commonwealth’s money, earned $157,182, which was less than 1,101 other state government employees made.
  • The top earner in the legislative branch was Anthony Aliano, chief counsel to House Republicans. He made $212,872, ranking him the 135th highest earner. The second highest earner was Mariam Fox, executive director of the House Democratic Appropriations Committee. She made $205,735, which was the 154th highest earnings.
  • The top earning coach employed by the State System of Higher Education is former veteran Indiana University of Pennsylvania girls’ head softball coach William Graham, who earned $227,648. According to the State System, Graham’s earnings included more than his salary. It also included a $156,959 buyout of his contract, $44,143 Cobra insurance payment and $619 in unused leave payout.
  • Coming in the 68th spot among the six-figure earners in 2020 is now-retired but longtime Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission executive director John Arway, had earnings totaling $240,532. That included a $111,913 payout for unused leave.
  • The highest earner among the State System of Higher Education faculty is Ken Mash, an East Stroudsburg University political science professor. Mash, who had the 47th highest earnings last year among state government workers, is also currently serving as president of the faculty union. He earned $266,486 last year, but $138,588 of it was for four years of back pay that he mistakenly did not receive. However, State System spokesman Kenn Marshall noted that while East Stroudsburg pays Mash’s salary, it is reimbursed in full by the union.
  • State Treasurer Joe Torsella had earnings of $157,182, making him the 1,101th highest earner in state government. However, his spokeswoman Heidi Havens points out that Torsella last year as well as this year donated his statutorily provided cost-of-living adjustment to the Keystone Scholars program. That program, which Torsella first launched as pilot program and later put into law by the Legislature, deposits $100 into a higher education savings account for every baby born or adopted by Pennsylvania residents. To date, Torsella has directed $2,336 of his salary to the program.

* This post has been updated to include information about state Treasurer Joe Torsella’s earnings. It also was updated to correct who the highest earner in the legislative branch was.

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