Behind every dark cloudóthereís another one

The budget battle, worker’s comp, and now this: Some cities could be threatened with bankruptcy in the next few years and local and state governments are facing massive price tags for runaway increases in pension benefits. Just a few years ago, in 1999, when California seemed like the center of the cyber-universe and budgets had actual surpluses, Gov. Gray Davis and state legislators pushed through a labor-supported bill that generously hiked pension packages for highway patrol and corrections officers. Cities and counties soon got in line to reward police, fire and other emergency workers with pensions up to 90 percent of their salaries, even if they retire in the early to mid-50s. Since public employees are so instrumental in electing officials, it was a reward from politicians to their benefactors. They were buoyed in this excess by assurances from the California Public Employees Retirement Fund that returns on investments would completely fund the costs.