The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

February 21, 2012
Stanford: California's local public pensions $135.7 billion short

The 24 largest independent pension systems in California, including Sacramento County's, are facing a combined $135.7 billion in long-term obligations that they won't have the assets to cover, a new Stanford University report says.

Sacramento County is carrying $4.75 billion in unfunded liabilities, according to the report, with a funded ratio of 57.5 percent. Those numbers are based on an assumed rate of investment return of 5 percent used by the university's Institute for Economic Policy Research.

Generally, experts consider an 80 percent funding ratio for public pensions' financial health, but that figure is greatly affected by what the funds -- or in this case, Stanford researchers -- assume its investments will return. Many pension systems assume they'll earn 7.5 percent or more.

The average funded ratio of all 24 systems outside of CalPERS is 53.6 percent, using the lower Stanford investment return assumption. The research covers Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Sonoma, Stanislaus and Ventura counties. The cities whose pensions were examined include Fresno, Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Diego. The 24 systems account for more than 99 percent of independent system assets, Stanford says.

Between 1999 and 2010, the local municipalities' pension spending grew at 11.4 percent per year, more than the rate of growth for any other expenditure category, according to the report.

California Common Sense also sponsored the research by Stanford professor Joe Nation and student researcher Evan Storms. In December, Nation published a report that concluded California's three big statewide public pension systems have a combined $500 billion in unfunded liabilities. Public employee unions and CalPERS rejected Nation's conclusions.

MORE PENSION MATH: Funded Status, Benefits, and Spending Trends for California's Largest Independent Public...

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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