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SAN BERNARDINO - City officials were somewhat puzzled by national media attention after CalPERS' announcement last week that the city hadn't made any of its required payments to the state pension system since filing for bankruptcy in August.
San Bernardino officials had publicly decided to defer as many payments as they could - but their stance with CalPERS also highlights what will likely be a long and bitter fight.
The reason for the city hasn't made the payments, which according to CalPERS total $5.3 million, is simple, said Mayor Pat Morris' son and chief of staff, Jim Morris.
"We're not paying them because we don't have the money," Jim Morris said, adding no one was spoiling for a fight. "We don't want to pick a fight with the 400-pound gorilla in the room."
As the mayor and City Council fight over details of where to cut spending and how to raise new revenue, they've generally agreed on this guiding principal: Take care of employees and essential services first. Other obligations can be settled in bankruptcy court.
But CalPERS - the California Public Employee Retirement System, used by many cities - has argued that it should be among the first priorities, a position spokeswoman Amy Norris reiterated on Friday.
"We do intend to enforce it," Norris said. "We do intend to try to collect this, and ultimately if they can't and are unable to recover it, we have the option of terminating the plan."
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