By George Linn.

Last week hundreds of retired public employees gathered in Southern California for the Retired Public Employees’ Association of California (RPEA) bi-annual General Assembly. The five day event joined retired public employees from around the state to discuss the many issues affecting pensioners in the state and to elect a new president to spearhead the effort to protect the benefits for all public employees.

This assembly and leadership change comes at a critical time for public retirees as pensions continue to be the topic of discussion, and misplaced criticism, in California and across the nation.

RPEA is the association in charge of protecting and enhancing retirement benefits for all public employees who receive their pension or health benefits from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

Public employees are an important piece of the puzzle that makes up California’s economy. Unfortunately the portrayal of CalPERS and its retirees is often misconstrued as wealthy pensioners living in the lap of luxury; and nothing could be further from the truth.

Public retirees, like our RPEA members, are a significant part of California’s economy. Not only did many of them dedicate their lives working to improve California’s schools, roads, and increase public safety; they continue to be significant contributors to the economic strength of California.

Many RPEA retirees do not receive employer-paid health care, and many do not receive Medicare benefits nor social security. For the most part, public retirees are being asked to live on modest incomes that fall far short of lavish.

Seventy-four percent of CalPERS retirees receive less than $36,000 per year. The average monthly retirement allowance for all CalPERS retirees is $2,000, and some receive even less. Many public retirees do not receive Social Security benefits because their employers do not participate in the program.

In addition to the moderate pensions that the majority of CalPERS retirees receive, a new study released by CalPERS shows a significant return on money paid to our retirees. It is reported that for every dollar spent on pensions, $10.85 is returned directly to the state.

Pension checks generate over $30 billion dollars in income taxes, sales taxes, and support tens of thousands of jobs.

While pension reform continues to be a hot topic issue for many, a new CalPERS study shows that eliminating public pensions is not the right step for California.

If CalPERS were to be eliminated, California would lose the $30.4 billion of economic activity it currently supports. This would create a budget hole that would fall on the back of taxpayers in the form of higher taxes and unemployment benefits due to the loss of thousands of jobs.

Public employees are not the cause of the problems in California. The continuous blame being placed on them and CalPERS needs to stop and I am ready to lead a new era of RPEA.

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