Video: Why Did Pension Reform Fail in Ventura County?

Above is a video recapping the state of pension reform in Ventura County, California — and why County voters won’t find a pension reform measure on their ballot today.

Disclosure: the Reason Foundation is a libertarian research organization. Referenced in the video is a report produced by Reason that claims Ventura County could have saved $460 million over the next 15 years if the reform measure was enacted. The report was commissioned by the Committee for Pension Fairness, the group that sponsored the pension reform initiative.

From the video description:

On Tuesday, voters across the county will venture to polling stations for the midterm elections. In Ventura County, California, residents will be able to have their say on a variety of local issues, but there is one initiative they won’t be able to cast their ballot for—that measure is pension reform.

Like so many retirement systems across the country, Ventura has seen it’s pension fund go from having a healthy surplus to being over a billion dollars in debt. To avoid having their county become the next Stockton or Detroit, the Ventura County Taxpayers Association crafted a reform measure that would move the county from a defined benefit to a defined contribution system.

But shortly after it was approved to appear on the ballot, a local judge preemptively ruled the measure illegal and ordered it stricken from the 2014 election—thus ending Ventura’s hopes to change their costly pension system.

According to the judge’s ruling, even though voters elected to create a pension fund decades ago, the law provides them no way to exit the system through a vote. Reformers would have to either repeal or amend the law through state legislation to change their costly pension programs.

The decision was a setback for the VCTA, who had hoped a midterm victory could expedite change to VCERA’s growing mountain of debt. Taxpayers pay $153 million per year to the pension system—that’s triple the number they paid out over a decade ago. In the next five years, that number is expected to climb to $226 million.

“When you look at compensation and pensions…we’re right up there if not higher than anybody else,” states Bill Wilson, a member of the VCTA who has also served on the county retirement board for over 16 years.

The reform would have enacted a defined contribution plan whereby the county would contribute four percent for general county employees and 11 percent for public safety workers. The measure would have only applied to new employees hired after July 2015.

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