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EDITORIAL ENDING THE RIP-OFF PUBLIC EMPLOYEE PENSION FRAUD REQUIRES MAJOR OVERHAUL.

FIRST came the reports of ``Chief's Disease,'' with retiring California Highway Patrol command staff members spiking their pensions by filing questionable disability claims. Then, it was revealed that many retiring Los Angeles County firefighters manipulated the pension system the same way.

Now we learn county sheriff's deputies get enhanced pension benefits at nearly the highest rate in the state. Experts speculate that these departments represent just a drop in the as-yet-undiscovered reservoir of public employee pension fraud.

The public employee pension system is rife with fraud. Many savvy government employees have figured how to milk it for a cushier retirement at taxpayers' expense. The soaring cost is a burden on the backs of taxpayers, who are paying more for fewer public services, at least in part because the pension system is eating billions of dollars a year.

That's why half-hearted actions like the plan announced by Supervisor Gloria Molina last week to review the pensions of county public safety workers on a case-by-case basis are so laughable. It doesn't fix anything. It's like putting a fingertip Band-Aid on a severed arm.

If the supervisors are looking for kudos for doing the least they could do as usual, they're wrong. They need to examine and overhaul the whole system of public-employee pensions, a system that is growing more costly - up to 90 percent of highest salary for growing numbers of employees - while private-sector employees are seeing their pension plans dissolved and even Social Security imperiled.

The past is rapidly catching up with the county: closed jails, broken children's services programs, a failing public health care system. Is there anything in county government that is working right?

A few toothless efforts to check pension packages for fraud - which, incidentally, is something that the public had a right to expect all along - won't stop the hemorrhaging. If the supervisors want to show the public they are serious about fixing the burdens of the public pension system, they will start a process that leads to major reforms.

The abuses that are being uncovered stain a whole class of public employees, most of whom have worked hard, contributed to making our communities healthier, even put their lives on the line in public safety jobs, and would never think of cheating the pension system.

They, more than anyone, ought to be angry over what's going on and support tough measures that give them fair pensions while curbing the opportunity for abuse.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 4, 2005
Words:405
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