California begins to tackle City of Bell pay, pension abuses

Believe it or not, the news out of California is not always bad. For example, earlier this week, California's State Senate wisely rejected a bill that would have banned plastic bags and taxed paper bags. Today, I'm pleased to report that I have learned the State Senate also approved several reforms to curb pension and pay abuse by local officials.

The Senate approved a bill banning automatic pay raises that exceed the cost-of-living index built into the contracts of local government officials. Senators also approved a bill to end to "pension spiking", which is the practice where public employees save up sick time and vacation days until just before retirement to drive up their final year's salary. The final year's salary is then used to calculate their pension allottment.

A few weeks ago, it was reported that officials with the City of Bell, a tiny, low-income community outside Los Angeles (per capita income was $24,000), were earning huge salaries and benefits. Four City Council members earned $100,000 a year even though their positions are largely part-time. The City Administrator, who oversees services for the town of 38,000 earned almost $800,000 per year, double what the President of the United States makes for administering the government of a country with 300 million people. In the wake of these revelations, several officials resigned, council members voluntarily docked their pay, and those that remain will likely be challenged in primaries and the general election.

Hopefully, these reforms will prevent future abuses and put some trust back in government. Let's also hope other cities and state governments look to the lessons from the Bell scandal and explore ways to ensure the integrity of their finances.