Monday, May 20

California public employee transparency site created

A public policy think tank launched a website last week showing compensation and pension data for California’s public employees, including employees for the University of California.

California Public Policy Center launched the website called Transparent California, which includes data from state agencies, municipalities and more than 30 pension funds, said Ed Ring, the executive director of California Public Policy Center.

The organization aims to educate the public on California’s payroll and pension system for its employees and to keep the government accountable, Ring said.

“There’s a lot of discussion about what … affordable and sustainable benefit and compensation should be for public workers,” Ring said. “We’ve made the decision to further the public discussion.”

Compared to other databases that do not include the data from municipalities or pension data, the center’s website includes more than two million salary records and a million pension records, including University of California Retirement Plan, Ring said.

Newspapers including The Sacramento Bee and San Jose Mercury News have released similar types of data for about five years. The UC released its compensation data online in 2010, said Dianne Klein, a UC spokeswoman. Before that, the UC provided the data to those who asked for it, Klein said.

The California state controller’s office also offers the compensation data without the names of the state’s public workers that it covers. The UC is not part of the database.

The organization obtained the data by searching online and filing Public Records Act requests, Ring said. No data was acquired through illegitimate means, he added.

The center was unable to receive data about UC employee benefits, such as health insurance, and the organization intends to follow up with the UC for the data, Ring said.

While the benefits data for individuals are not available, Klein said the UC lists all of the benefits it provides to its workers online.

California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the biggest pension system in California, tried to release its pension data online in July. After suffering a heavy backlash from retiree organizations, leaders of the system decided in January not to continue with the plan.

Harvey Robinson, the president of Retired Public Employees’ Association of California, said releasing the data online may make elderly retirees vulnerable to privacy invasion.

The organization acknowledges that California public workers’ names, gross allowance and employer names are public information, but Robinson said he does not want names of employees to be readily available on the internet.

People will likely look at the outliers in the data – those making much more than regular workers, Ring said. He added that he thinks people should also look at the average pension for the state’s workers.

“Since taxpayers have to pay for this, we should look at the numbers and make a rational decision about what is affordable and what is fair,” Ring said.

The 2013 data for UC employees will be uploaded to its own database by the spring, Klein said.

Ring said the organization is still in the process of gathering data and will regularly update the website.

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