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Former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is a candidate for a County Supervisor seat. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Former San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said she has no interest in reforming or eliminating county employee pensions if elected to the County Board of Supervisors later this year.

Dumanis — whose county pension totals $269,000 after 35 years of work — was a staunch supporter of pension reform for city of San Diego pensions when she unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2012.

That year, she supported the city initiative Proposition B, which eliminated guaranteed pensions for most new city employees in exchange for 401(k)-style retirement benefits. Dumanis called city pensions unsustainable, but said she never supported eliminating pensions for San Diego law enforcement. Their pensions were largely preserved under Prop. B, though the ceiling for pension benefits was reduced for new hires.

In an interview Feb. 14, she said county pensions are different, and need no additional reforms.

“In the mayor’s race, it was the city that was in a financial bind and so the position on Prop. B was to help them out of the financial bind. The county is not in that same position,” Dumanis said. “The county has addressed that pension reform.”

Dumanis noted county supervisors lowered pension benefits for new hires repeatedly, most recently in January.

Employees hired after Jan. 1 who retire at age 65 or older “will receive 1.62 percent of their annual salaries for every year of service — a decline from the 2.3 percent per year that general members hired under current rules accrue,” the Union-Tribune reported.

The city of San Diego had also gone through multiple rounds of pension reform before Dumanis joined the clamor to get rid of guaranteed pensions entirely for new hires. The reforms had lowered future employees pensions in the city to about what the county’s are now.

Still, Dumanis and one of her rivals for the county supervisor seat, Nathan Fletcher, both supported going further and eliminating pensions entirely. Fletcher now says he was wrong. He has been endorsed by two major county employee unions, the Service Employees International Union and United Domestic Workers.

Under past county reforms, “The county and the employee are equal in their payments and the age for retirement has been lifted tremendously, and they put a cap on how much you can receive,” Dumanis said. “So, they have already dealt with the situation.”

“I think they’ve addressed it appropriately and they’ve taken appropriate action and they have a financial situation that is far better than the city ever was. They have a $2.9 billion reserve and part of that reserve is for the unfunded liability,” she said.

Asked whether new district attorneys should be eligible for the kind of pension she now receives, Dumanis said, “If the district attorney is someone that has 30 years of experience and worked hard on issues that are tremendously life or death, I think yes.”

Though the county pension system has a $3.5 billion unfunded pension liability, or gap between assets and accrued liabilities for current and former employees, and a 76.3 percent funded ratio, Dumanis said she is not concerned.

“It would be like today, you had to pay for it” all, Dumanis said, plus, “You have millennials now, that don’t even stay very long. So, the people that you have to cover are leaving. The new people are on a new system and so it’s different. They pay more into the system every year, and they (the county) have the surplus.”

“When I started out, the reason why people went primarily to public service, is because public service paid a lot less than the private sector, especially for lawyers,” she said. With pensions, people “felt they could take a reduction in salary for the benefit of retirement.”

Dumanis’ pension was recently in the news after public records showed her attorneys argued she could take a pension and salary simultaneously if elected to the County Board of Supervisors.

That’s now OK, thanks to new laws passed quietly by state legislators. But Dumanis says her plan has always been to reject the salary and keep only her pension if elected.

Ashly McGlone

Ashly is a freelance investigative reporter. She formerly worked as a staff reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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