Patt Morrison Asks: Benefit buster Lanny Ebenstein

Are you mismatching cause and effect? Taxpayers are making up the defined-benefit pension differences because the markets the pension funds were invested in flopped. Isn't it the markets' fault, not the unions?

If, as I believe, you don't think the market is going to grow at the 3% or 4% rate, then there has to be a recalibration. But the crucial question is whether public employees are overcompensated, and I believe unequivocally is that they are.

The trope is that public employees get smaller salaries than comparable private sector jobs in exchange for job security and secure pensions.

In California, the public sector was probably equal with the private sector by the 1970s and started to pull ahead in the '80s and '90s. It's really been in the last 10 years that they have received the additional salaries and benefits and pensions. And if it were just a little bit better on the back end, that would be one thing. But if you project another 10, 15 years, we're going to have more than 100,000 people with pensions of more than $100,000 a year.

There was a time that liberals and progressives were for government spending other than public employees' pensions. They were for more roads, more schools, more parks. I'm for all those things, but we're not going to have [them] if we continue the pay and benefit packages we have now. Pay public sector workers a fair wage comparable to the private sector and there'd be enough for lower taxes and increased services.

You're raising money so you can begin to collect signatures to put this on the ballot.

We need $2 million. We are trying to get commitments of a million dollars. We only need two of those, but it's more like getting individuals to commit $100,000. We have several people who've committed $100,000 if we can get a million dollars.

Are you asking the Koch brothers? They controversially put money against public employee unions in Wisconsin.

We haven't gone to the Koch brothers yet, but we may. In the same way that the problem was created by Democrats and Republicans, the solution is going to be created by Democrats and Republicans. You have to unite Republicans who are concerned about taxes with Democrats who are concerned about public services.

Did your father get a pension from UCSB?

He died at 65, so I don't believe he ever did.

Do you get one for the time you taught at Santa Barbara Community College?

I do.

Would that be a defined benefit?

It depends on what happens with reform of the system. At this point in time it would be a defined benefit, so what I'm advocating may not be in my personal interest!


This interview is edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript. An archive of past interviews is at latimes.com/pattasks.
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