By Ed Mendel
Monday, March 25, 2013

The CalPERS board last week tentatively approved an employer rate hike of roughly 50 percent over the next half dozen years, replacing a policy that kept rates low during the recession with a plan to reach full funding in 30 years.

While giving unanimous “first reading” approval to the proposal by Chief Actuary Alan Milligan, the board asked for more information before final approval scheduled next month.

“Any addition to the schools (rate) is likely to result in layoffs to employees,” said the board president, Rob Feckner, who represents the largest group of CalPERS members, non-teaching employees in 1,488 school districts.

Feckner’s request for options for a “longer horizon” for phasing in the rate increase, softening the blow to employers, was joined by Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s representative, Grant Boyken, and board member Michael Bilbrey.

The proposal for a new actuarial method would show state and local government employers the new rate plan in their next annual valuation report. But a five-year phase in of the rate increase would not begin until fiscal 2014-15 for state and school employers.

The rate increase would not begin to phase in until fiscal 2015-16 for the local governments in the giant California Public Employees Retirement System, 1,567 public agencies with 2,044 retirement plans.

“Contributions that we need for the system really depend on the funded status of the plan and matters that are unrelated to their (employers) financial ability,” Milligan told Feckner. “Having said that, I will take a look at what we can do in the way of providing options.”

The CalPERS funding level has not recovered from a $100 billion loss during the deep economic recession and, under the current rate policy, is not projected to reach full funding in 30 years.

The CalPERS investment fund, expected to provide about two-thirds of future pension payments, peaked at $260 billion in the fall of 2007, dropped to $160 billion in March 2009 and was back up to $256 billion last week.

The total CalPERS fund had 101 percent of the projected assets needed to cover future pensions in 2007. The funding level dropped to 60.8 percent in 2009 and in the last valuation (as of June 30, 2011) was back up to 73.6 percent.

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