Illegal public employee pension spiking that has permeated Contra Costa and Alameda counties for more than a decade will finally cease at the end of next week. Employees must retire by July 11 if they want to artificially fatten their retirement pay.
Brace yourself: There will undoubtedly be stories about workers rushing to retire. There will be complaints about losing experienced employees. If that's the short-term price we must pay for restoring sanity to retirement costs, so be it.
Public employee pensions are calculated using a formula that includes salary, usually the pay from the final year. To boost that number the two pension systems have been allowing workers to count as income payments received at termination, especially for unused leave.
It's an abhorrent practice that allowed Contra Costa employees to use that one-time income to spike their pensions as much as 15 percent each year for the rest of their lives. The boost in Alameda County was less.
Most public employees around the state, including those covered by the California Public Employees' Retirement Association, are not allowed to abuse the system in the same way. But for years the Contra Costa County Employees' Retirement Association and the Alameda County Employees' Retirement Association have acted as if appellate court rulings didn't apply to them.
As far back as 1997, the Contra Costa retirement association's attorney had advised that the pension spiking was impermissible. But the trustees ignored that advice and a similar warning from another attorney in 2009.
In 2012, as state lawmakers passed pension law changes, this newspaper exposed a loophole that would have legalized such spiking for all 20 county-level pension systems in the state. In reaction, lawmakers rushed through corrective legislation reaffirming past law and court rulings.
That sparked litigation from workers seeking to keep the gravy train running by blocking implementation of the new law. But, in a May ruling, Contra Costa Judge David Flinn said the spiking had been illegal all along and must be ended.
Unions have appealed the decision to the state Court of Appeal, and had sought an order blocking implementation of Flinn's ruling until the matter was resolved. On Monday, the appellate court refused to grant the stay.
It was the right decision. This abuse has gone on too long. The pension systems have been ignoring the law for years. Delay would have only meant more artificially inflated pension payments at the expense of taxpayers.
It's time to end the spiking. In fact, it's long overdue.