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A switch in retirement plans could be a boon for prosecutors and public defenders. Under a new state law, AB 2023, counties can offer them better retirement benefits, similar to those given to police officers and firefighters. In San Francisco, a proposed charter amendment would give prosecutors, public defenders and public defender investigators the same so-called “3 percent at 55″ retirement plan the city gives police officers. Such plans calculate a retiree’s annual pension by multiplying annual salary by years of service, which is then multiplied by a percentage based on age. Under the “3 percent at 55″ plan, for example, a person who retires at age 50 can use 2.4 percent in the formula, and that percentage gradually increases with age, up to 3 percent at 55 years old. Under this plan, the limit on annual benefits is 90 percent of the person’s annual salary. Currently, San Francisco’s attorneys and investigators are on the “2 percent at 60″ plan, which means they use 1 percent in the formula if they retire at age 50, 1.1 percent at age 51, and so on up to 2 percent at age 60. The maximum annual retirement benefits are capped at 75 percent of annual salary. Assistant District Attorney John Dwyer offers as one example a hypothetical lawyer who makes $120,000 annually and contributes $9,000 a year toward retirement. That is based on conditions after July 1, when attorneys will start contributing 7.5 percent of their pre-tax salary toward retirement under a new labor contract. They now contribute 2.75 percent. The Municipal Attorney’s Association estimates that, to offset the costs of the “3 percent at 55″ plan, the county may increase attorneys’ retirement contributions to between 10 and 12 percent, said Dwyer, an officer with the association, which represents about 430 lawyers. If that were the case, the hypothetical lawyer would be required to contribute $12,000 to $14,400 a year, or $3,000 to $5,400 more than under the current retirement plan. But the attorney would also save about $5,400 a year in Social Security deductions, Dwyer said. So the lawyer would take home about the same amount of cash per year, or maybe as much as $2,400 more, according to the association’s estimates. The big payoff for changing plans would typically come at retirement. “It may cost some employees more, but they’ll of course be getting a better benefit,” Dwyer said. Consider a 60-year-old attorney who’d worked 30 years and retired at an annual salary of $120,000, Dwyer said. Under the current “2 percent at 60″ plan, that lawyer would get a pension of $72,000 a year, said Dwyer. But under the “3 percent at 55″ plan, he would get $108,000 — $36,000 more each year, he said. If San Francisco voters grant the attorneys and investigators “3 percent at 55,” the new plan would apply retroactively to the employees’ past service. And those who prefer the current plan could opt out of the change. The “3 percent at 55″ plan is the highest attorneys are allowed under AB 2023. The even higher “3 percent at 50″ option is reserved for more traditional safety employees, such as police officers.

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