California Forum

Another View: State pension funds are recovering

Lydia Petitjean
Lydia Petitjean

Perhaps an oil slick is clouding the crystal ball of Stephen Eide of the Koch brothers-funded Manhattan Institute when he suggests that the effort to undermine the retirement security of millions of Californians – disguised as “pension reform” – is gaining steam (“Pension reform has momentum”; Viewpoints, Aug. 14).

Here’s a reality check: The state’s pension funds are on the road to recovery, the governor and Legislature have enacted significant pension reform, and the ballot measure attacking retirement security is on life support.

In a bipartisan move, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature capped pensions, eliminated abuse and increased the retirement age. Savings from these measures are expected to be upward of $55 billion. Public employees are paying more for their benefits than ever, with more than 600 negotiated agreements in 400 jurisdictions across the state reflecting newly increased pension contributions from employees.

After a decade of neglect from politicians, the governor and legislators passed legislation that will gradually eliminate the unfunded liabilities of CalSTRS, the teacher’s pension fund. Both short- and long-term returns of CalPERS and CalSTRS are well above the 7.5 percent that the systems use as a benchmark for returns, including 18.4 percent for CalPERS in 2014. Wall Street rating agency Moody’s continues to give the state’s pension funds some of its highest ratings;

Meanwhile, the pension ballot measured spearheaded by tea party-backed former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio is floundering. Independent analysts found it could possibly cost taxpayers more than it would save. Legal reviews found it would undermine death and disability benefits for firefighters and public safety officials. And the attorney general correctly pointed out that it could eliminate retirement benefits for existing public workers as well as future ones.

All those factors make it a deal killer for voters. Polling consistently has shown that measures that eliminate retirement security protections for workers and put death and disability benefits in danger are political non-starters. Yet the DeMaio measure includes all of these poison pills. On top of that, it essentially eliminates collective bargaining.

Similar attempts to attack retirement security have fared poorly at the ballot box. The answer to the state’s retirement crisis is not politically driven ballot measures. It’s working together on solutions that provide everyone with the retirement security they deserve.

Lydia Petitjean is a school secretary in the Robla Elementary School District and president of its California School Employees Association chapter.