By Dale Kasler
Business & Real Estate
dkasler@sacbee.com
December 20, 2016 – 5:17 PM

The cost of that government pension is about to go up again, for California taxpayers as well as some public employees.

CalPERS moved to slash its official investment forecast Tuesday, a dramatic step that will translate into billions of dollars in higher annual pension contributions from the state, local governments and school districts.

Employees hired after January 2013, when a statewide pension reform law took effect, will also have to kick in more money. Older employees could see higher contributions, too, although that would be subject to contract bargaining.

CalPERS’ Finance and Administration Committee voted 6-1 to lower the forecast from 7.5 percent to 7 percent in phases over three years, starting next July. Although the committee’s vote must be ratified by the entire board Wednesday, most other board members indicated they support the move as well.

It would be the first adjustment to the forecast in four years.

The move is a recognition that investment returns are falling and that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which is just 68 percent funded, needs higher contributions from government agencies to solve its long-term problems.

“We’re in a low-growth (investment) environment, and it’s expected to remain that way the next five to 10 years,” board member Henry Jones said.

CalPERS adviser Wilshire Consulting has predicted the fund will likely earn just 6.2 percent a year over the next decade, and critics such as Dan Pellissier of California Pension Reform said Tuesday’s move doesn’t go far enough.

Board members, however, defended the action as a compromise; it will help stabilize the fund while giving municipalities and other government agencies some breathing room before they absorb the impact. Richard Costigan, chairman of the finance committee, said CalPERS officials will continue to look at the fund’s investment strategies over the next year.

“This is just a start,” Costigan said.

The state will start to absorb the impact of higher rates with the start of the new fiscal year next July. Municipalities and school districts won’t start feeling the effect until a year later. All told, the higher contribution rates will be phased in over eight years.

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