A couple weeks ago, Scott Lewis once again offered me the opportunity to host Café San Diego today. Somehow, with his deep network of moles in key government positions, he must have known that today would be the first time since last December that the county of San Diego would be again taking up medical benefits for retired San Diego County employees.
Today, the Board of Supervisors has on its agenda that very issue in the form of a possible amendment to the explicitly firm stance taken on December 6, 2006, when its members fired off a bullet at the San Diego County Board of Retirement that was not going to hit its target until July 1. Maybe their aim was off a bit.
The Board of Supervisors had used its sole control over what’s known as a 401(h) plan — which allows retired county employees to receive a $400 a month health care reimbursement paid for by the San Diego County Employees Retirement Association (SDCERA) as a pre-tax benefit — to make a point to SDCERA’s Board of Retirement: Eliminate that payment to those who retired after March 2002 under the enhanced retirement programs and stop using a portion of the investment income from the retirement fund to pay for non-vested benefits or we’ll close the 401(h) plan completely.
To be fair, the Board of Supervisors did say they would, for the first time ever, directly out of county taxpayer money, pay the benefit themselves to county retirees, but only those retiring under the pre-2002 retirement plans known as Tier 1 and Tier 2. A big reason behind this whole change was a revision in government accounting standards that would load the county with a debt actually being paid for by SDCERA since it was the county’s name on the 401(h) plan. That was something the county had never agreed to, and for good reason, wanted out of the deal.
So, after months of painstaking research and deliberation, on May 3 SDCERA responded in its own resolution (yes, it would be simpler to pick up the phone — unless you are in government) by taking the county up on its offer to pay for Tier 1 and Tier 2 retirees from county money, but found a way for SDCERA to pay a similar but taxable benefit to those already (and those very soon to be) retired under the enhanced retirement plans (Tier A) from money its had already set aside in a five-year reserve to pay the health care reimbursement to everyone.
Seems taking Tier 1 and Tier 2 off their books allowed for the much fewer Tier A retirees to draw from that reserve for quite some time. And of course this still leaves those current county employees who are not near retirement out in the cold with no retirement health care reimbursement.
The hook is that SDCERA will adopt a policy that essentially all of its investment earnings will be reinvested until the retirement fund is 90 percent funded of its actuarial amount. Some say that, and getting the liability out of its name, is what the county really wanted all along.
An actuarial report presented to SDCERA last fall showed that if all the investment earnings were re-invested, the fund would be at 100 percent by 2013. If that comes to be, that’s great news for everyone.
If you followed all of that, you must have an opinion on what the Board of Supervisors will do today? I’d like to hear it.
Hopefully, this issue will be over by mid-morning, because I really wanted to talk about crime in San Diego.
— JIM DUFFY