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Rob Feckner, president of the CalPERS board of administration, has heard stories that all is not well with the massive pension fund, with assets of more than $301 billion. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” writes Feckner in the Sacramento Bee. “Let me tell you why.” Investment returns for fiscal year July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016 were “just shy of 1 percent, a small but significant achievement in a year of extraordinarily turbulent and volatile global markets.” Last year CalPERS “put a policy in place to incrementally lower our discount rate, currently at 7.5 percent, in years of good investment returns.” It’s all working well and CalPERS retirement plans are “also a powerful financial engine,” generating “nearly $27 billion in economic activity every year, stimulating business growth, generating tax receipts and supporting more than 360,000 jobs in our local communities.”
For a different perspective, taxpayers might consider former San Jose mayor Chuck Reed. According to the latest numbers, CalPERS “failed to make enough money to meet its obligations in the last fiscal year,” and is “now more than $100 billion short of having enough money to pay pension obligations for government workers and retirees, despite massive increases in payments to CalPERS by state and local governments.” Reed traces this back to 1999, when the legislature granted retroactive pension increases to government employees, claiming this could be done “without it costing a dime of additional taxpayer money.” It couldn’t.
As Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee notes, CalPERS and other pension funds have yet to recover from the recession “and they’re sharply raising mandatory ‘contributions’ from state and local governments to cover the gaps left by meager investment earnings.” Outlays will continue to outstrip inflow making pension funds “even more dependent on investment earnings or taxpayers to close the gaps.” Californian’s unfunded pension debt is “at least $300 billion now” and as much as $1 trillion with lower earnings assumptions, not counting “another $100 billion-plus in unfunded obligations for retiree health care.”
The pension crisis is getting worse, and taxpayers can’t trust CalPERS bosses to tell the truth.