John Chiang

New data on California public pensions from a website created by state Controller John Chiang come at a time of growing anger from taxpayers over the skyrocketing cost of public workers’ retirements. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)

By Marc Lifsher
November 13, 2014

A decade ago, many of California’s public pension plans had plenty of money to pay for workers’ retirements.

All that has changed, according to a far-reaching package of data from the state controller. Taxpayers are now on the hook for billions of dollars more to cover the future retirements of public workers, with the bill widely varying depending on where they live.

The City of Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension System, for instance, had more than enough funds in 2003 to cover its estimated future bill for workers’ retirement checks. A decade later, it is short $3 billion.

The state’s pension goliath, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, had $281 billion to cover the benefits promised to 1.3 million workers and retirees in 2013. Yet it needed an additional $57 billion to meet future obligations.

The bill at the state teachers’ pension fund is even higher: It has an estimated shortfall of $70 billion.

The new data from a website created by state Controller John Chiang come at a time of growing anger from taxpayers over the skyrocketing cost of public workers’ retirements.

Until now, the bill for those government pensions was buried deep in the funds’ financial reports. By making this data available, Chiang is bound to stir debate about how taxpayers can afford to make retirement more comfortable for public workers when private-sector employees’ own financial futures have become less secure. For most non-government workers, fixed monthly pensions are increasingly rare.

“Somebody, who is knowledgeable and interested, is several clicks away from the ugly mess that will define California’s financial future,” said Dan Pellissier, president of California Pension Reform, a Sacramento-area group seeking to stem rising statewide retirement costs.

Chiang has assembled reams of data from 130 public pension plans run by the state, cities and other government agencies. It’s now accessible at his website, ByTheNumbers.sco.ca.gov.

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