On Wednesday I was in Sacramento talking to state workers and others about public employee pensions and calls for reforming the system when I stumbled upon a group of 75 or so California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) employees in the middle of a “team-building” baseball game and picnic in Sacramento’s Land Park.
It was the middle of a work day, and when the participants realized a reporter was in their midst, well let’s just say there was a lot of uneaten potato salad as chairs were quickly folded up and the players scattered. You can’t blame them for not wanting to talk about the game. State employees – all employees really – are trained to refer media queries to the professionals.
One worker, however, did tell me they were on “work time,” which might be construed as being on the taxpayers’ dime. So later I asked CalPERS media rep Brad Pacheco if it didn’t look bad – given all the layoffs and budget cuts at all levels of government, not to mention the economic suffering of so many in California – for state workers to be high-fiving at a ball game and picnic in the middle of a work day.
“This was not paid for by the system," he said. "It was their lunch hour plus administrative time granted by managers to recognize the division’s achievements.” Pacheco said these accomplishments include a pilot project resulting in 95% of the office supplies for their division being purchased by small businesses, and the introduction of a smaller envelope that saved CalPERS money on postage.
As for the mid-day time off, Pacheco was unapologetic. “It’s sad that the focus on public employees has come to the point where we have to defend a two-hour recognition picnic that occurs once a year." Pacheco noted that these workers were support staff -- folks who operate the mail room, copy documents, etc. -- not portfolio managers.
Speaking of those portfolio managers – hopefully they were back in the office. On Monday CalPERS reported a paltry 1 percent return on investments in the fiscal year ending June 30. The weak performance of the $234 billion portfolio is terrible news for state and local governments already struggling to maintain their contributions to employee retirement funds.