Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Friday, Nov. 11, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

The political Sturm und Drang over California’s public employee pensions, like all emotional debates, has tended to obscure the underlying facts of the issue.

If nothing else, however, the report on Gov. Jerry Brown’s pension reform plan that the Legislature’s budget analyst released this week should give all combatants, and the public, a clearer understanding of the issue’s financial and legal, if not political, parameters.

Its bottom line: State, local government and educational pensions in California are considerably more generous than those in other states. Their costs are growing factors in tight government budgets. Pension systems’ unfunded future liabilities are troubling. Retiree medical costs are a similarly bothersome issue. However, there are tight legal limits on what can be done to reduce the pension burden in the short run.

The report sees Brown’s 12-point pension reform plan as a good starting point, although lacking in some critical details and silent on such pithy issues as shortfalls in financing teacher pensions and retiree health care.

“Our overall perspective,” the report concluded, “is that the governor’s proposal is a bold one. It would result in substantial changes to the current public employee retirement benefit system, particularly for future employees. In our view, it would increase public confidence in state and local pension systems over the long term and bring public employees’ retirement benefits more in line with those of private-sector employees.”

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