The State Worker

California pension data highlights troubling trends

California State Controller John Chiang at the inauguration of Attorney General Kamala Harris in 2011.
California State Controller John Chiang at the inauguration of Attorney General Kamala Harris in 2011. The Sacramento Bee

Local-government employers contributions to defined-benefit retirement systems have nearly tripled in the last 11 years, according to the most recent data published by the California State Controller’s Office, while employee contributions have nearly doubled.

Meanwhile, more retirees are drawing money from their retirement systems while fewer active employees are paying in. Some of the troubling numbers:

▪ Cities and counties statewide paid $17.52 billion last year into pension funds, up from $6.38 billion in 2003. Employees’ contributions rose from $5.21 billion to $9.07 billion in 2013.

▪ Despite receiving more money, pension systems’ unfunded liabilities soared from $6.33 billion to $198.16 billion over the 11-year span.

▪ The number of local government retirees drawing benefits increased 50 percent, from a little over 800,000 in 2003 to 1.22 million last year.

▪ In 2013, there were 2.14 million active employees who paid into their retirement systems, down slightly from 2.25 million workers on local government payrolls in 2003.

Controller John Chiang, who is running for state treasurer, recently added public pension information to his BytheNumbers.sco.ca.gov website. The Internet data clearinghouse gives users access to raw financial data from California’s 58 counties and more than 450 cities. The data is audited by certified public accountants chosen by each individual pension system.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.

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