Cassity: Let's create a nonprofit to cover city's pension costs

Always wishing to be kept informed about issues that affect America, I signed up to receive periodic email updates from the president of the United States as he campaigns endlessly in an effort to win reelection.

I started receiving two or three emails a day from various and sundry members of the Obama administration exhorting me to please donate, donate big and donate now.

They say that if I cough up as little as $3, I will be entered into a drawing to win an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., to dine with the commander in chief and one or more of his buddies — his wife maybe, or George Clooney, or Pee Wee Herman, or whomever happens to be kicking around Foggy Bottom that day.

It is hoped this rather unseemly fundraising scheme will help Obama raise up to $1 billion to help sink Mitt Romney's boat.

The latest wrinkle in this little drama came this past week.

This new email asked me to forego birthday, anniversary, retirement and wedding presents, in favor of giving the money to the Obama reelection campaign.

While I certainly wish the president well with his three or four fundraisers a day, every day, I'd really rather keep my present money a bit closer to home. That's why I came up with an idea I think could be a real winner for Costa Mesa.

Instead of sending my present money to D.C., I'd like my fellow Costa Mesans to consider donating to help retire our city's unfunded pension liability. As of now, we owe almost $250 million to our police, fire and city workers that we have no realistic way of paying.

And it's growing.

Somehow or other we've managed to rack up this huge indebtedness while no one was looking. A decade or two of ever higher compensation for public union members, exacerbated by lowered retirement ages, coupled with the failure to address the growing problem by a succession of well-meaning but in-over-their-heads elected leaders, and a dire U.S. economy, has put our town in a really uncomfortable position.

But we're not alone. It has been predicted that up to 20% of all California cities are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. At least 200 other U.S. cities are in a similar pickle.

Just recently Stockton, a city of more than 300,000 souls, pulled the plug, making it the largest U.S. city ever to do so. After years of profligacy and pipe-dream public works projects that didn't pan out, and a last-ditch and unsuccessful effort to win sufficient concessions from the unions to which they owed some $500 million in unfunded pension obligations, they declared bankruptcy.

San Diego and San Jose are facing a similar fate. Both just voted unilaterally, and overwhelmingly, to reduce pension contributions to avoid having to take that fateful step. As charter cities, and with the California Supreme Court's affirmation, they enjoy the freedom to do so.

Of course, their employee unions immediately filed lawsuits.

Sound familiar?

Oh, and last week, San Bernardino, a city of 220,000, which claims a whopping $43.8 million annual shortfall, gave up and declared Chapter 9. This is a disturbing trend, to be sure.

Keeping all this in mind, let's go back to my suggestion.

I recommend we set up a nonprofit fund to accept money from our citizens that would have otherwise been wasted on frivolous iPads, TVs, luggage, Hawaiian vacations and that new car you were going to buy for little Suzie upon her college graduation. We can call it the Clear and Present Danger Fund.

Get it? I thought you would.

Then, while our elected leaders are working with their union and association counterparts to get pay and pension levels finally under control, or determine in the final analysis that they simply cannot, we could still be paying off a percentage of the gargantuan debt that should have never been racked up in our names in the first place.

Don't thank me. That's why God put me here.

CHUCK CASSITY is a longtime Costa Mesa resident active in education, youth sports and other causes. His column appears every other Friday.

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