Daily Pilot Commentary: Unions are partly to blame for city's woes, not the workers
Why is reform of public employee compensation, including pensions, an issue that resonates with liberals, conservatives and with the average resident in such diverse cities as San Francisco, Berkeley, San Diego, San Jose and Costa Mesa?
Because the facts are friendly, and even outrageous, to everyone — except public-employee union bosses.
The Daily Pilot recently wrote about two of the city's best employees ("We run 'a different offense' in Costa Mesa," Sept. 4). The article stated that firefighter Mike Ruhl made a salary of $115,000 in 2011 (35% of it in overtime) and mechanic Billy Folsom makes "about $70,000" annually.
This is an incomplete picture of what they earn. In business we call it total cost.
Ruhl received $154,612 in pay and benefits in 2001, including deferred compensation. He is 26 years old and will be able to retire with 90% of his salary and health benefits for life after 30 years of service.
Folsom received $93,794 as a mechanic and was also rewarded with about five weeks of vacation, 13 sick days, which don't expire at the end of each year, and 14 paid holidays. If you do the math, he only has to work four days a week. He will retire with 75% of his final pay and health benefits for life — a pension unheard of these days in the private sector.
Now for comparison, the median annual household income (more than one wage earner) in Costa Mesa is about $65,000. In the private sector, the standard number of sick days is five — use them or lose them. And the average taxpayer doesn't come close to getting seven weeks off for vacations and holidays.
It's important to note that Folsom and Ruhl aren't the villains here. They are excellent public servants doing their jobs.
The problem rests with their unions that have an unending thirst for unsustainable compensation, the city councils that approved those benefits, and a political system that has put the unions in charge and the residents slavishly working to provide their city workers with salaries and benefits they can only dream of.
COIN, or Civic Openness in Negotiations, is an ordinance that I created and recently proposed that will undoubtedly address the media disconnect between salary, overtime and total compensation (a.k.a. total cost).
In the end, the taxpayer pays the total cost or, in the estimation of the Little Hoover Commission, the next three generations of taxpayers will pay the total cost.
STEVE MENSINGER is a Costa Mesa city councilman who is running in the November election.