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Public pensions in California

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California public pensions
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Pension system
Number of pension systems 3
State pension systems: Public Employees' Retirement System
State Teachers' Retirement System
University of California Retirement Plan
System type: Defined benefit plan
Pension health (2011)[1]
Fund value: $458,817,271,000
Estimated liabilities: $592,184,306,000
Unfunded liabilities : $133,367,035,000
Percent funded: 77.48%
Percent funded change: Decrease.svg1.48%[2]
Percent funded rank: 18[3]
Pension fund members (2012)
Total members: 2,755,392
Active members: 1,326,659
Other members: 1,428,733
Other state pension information
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Public pensions
State public pension plans
Public pension health by state
California public pensions are the state mechanism by which state and many local government employees in California receive retirement benefits. Two state-sponsored systems administer benefits to the state's eligible retirees: the Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and the State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS). The University of California Retirement Plan (UCRP) administers retirement benefits to the university system's employees. The university Board of Regents assumes fiduciary responsibility for this plan.[4]

CalPERS oversees the following pension funds:

  • Public Employees' Retirement Fund (PERF)
  • Legislators' Retirement Fund (LRF)
  • Judges' Retirement Fund (JRF)
  • Judges' Retirement Fund II (JRF II)

According to the United States Census Bureau, the state has 57 locally-administered pension systems.[5]

A 2012 report from the Pew Center on the States noted that California's pension system was funded at 78 percent at the close of fiscal year 2010, below the 80 precent funding level experts recommend. Consequently, Pew designated the state's pension system as cause for "serious concern."[6]

The funding ratio for the state's pension system decreased from 88.78 percent in fiscal year 2006 to 77.48 percent in fiscal year 2011, a decrease of 11.3 percentage points, or 12.7 percent. Likewise, unfunded liabilities increased from just over $47 billion in fiscal year 2006 to more than $133 billion in fiscal year 2011.[7][8][9]


Pension plans

In fiscal year 2012, according to the systems' Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports and Actuarial Valuation Reports, California had a total of 1,326,659 active members in its retirement plans. Our membership figures divide plan participants into two broad categories: active and other. Active members are current employees contributing to the pension system. Other members include retirees, beneficiaries and other inactive plan participants (usually terminated employees entitled to benefits but not yet receiving them).[10]

The following data was collected from the systems' Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports and Actuarial Valuation Reports, which measured fund status as of June 30 and July 1, 2011. The "percentage funded" is calculated by taking the current value of the fund and dividing by the estimated amount of total liabilities. The assumed rate of return used to calculate fund value varied by system in fiscal year 2012 (see "Rate of return" below for more information). The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Pew Research Centers cite a percent funded ratio of 80 percent as the minimum threshold for a healthy fund, though the American Academy of Actuaries suggests that all pension systems "have a strategy in place to attain or maintain a funded status of 100 percent or greater."[11][12] The column labeled "SBS figure" refers to a market liability calculation of the fund by the nonprofit organization State Budget Solutions. This analysis uses a rate of return of 3.225 percent, which is based upon the 15-year Treasury bond yield. The organization calls this a "risk-free" rate of return that would make it easier for states to achieve their pension funding requirements in the future. Since 2006, all private sector corporate pension plans have incorporated market costs into their funding schemes.[13]

Basic pension plan information -- California
Plans Current value Percentage funded Unfunded liabilities Membership
State figure SBS figure[14] State figure SBS figure[14]
Public Employees' Retirement Fund[7] $271,389,000,000 82.6% N/A[15] $57,178,000,000 N/A[15] 786,586 active members
Legislators' Retirement Fund[7] $126,000,000 115.6% $(17,000,000) 14 active members
Judges' Retirement Fund[7] $54,000,000 1.6% $3,243,000,000 400 active members
Judges' Retirement Fund II[7] $561,000,000 92.0% $49,000,000 1,272 active members
State Teachers' Retirement System[8] $143,930,000,000 69% $63,840,000,000 421,499 active members
University of California Retirement Plan[9] $42,757,271,000 82.5% $9,074,035,000 116,888 active members
TOTALS $458,817,271,000 77.48% 42% $133,367,035,000 $640,618,460,000 1,326,659 active members
**Because the most recent valuation data available for PERF dates to June 30, 2011, and because it is by far the largest of the retirement funds discussed here, all state figures included date to 2011 to ensure proper comparability. In its calculations, State Budget Solutions used the more recent 2012 figures when available.

Annual Required Contribution

Annual Required Contributions (ARC) are calculated annually and are a sum of two different costs. The first component is the "normal cost," or what the employer owes to the system in order to support the liabilities gained in the previous year of service. The second component is an additional payment in order to make up for previous liabilities that have not yet been paid for. According to a report by the Pew Center on the States, in 2010 California paid 75 percent of its annual required contribution.[6][16]

On June 25, 2012, the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) approved a plan to reform the accounting rules for state and local pension funds. These revised standards were set to take effect in fiscal years 2013 and 2014.[17] As a result, ARCs were removed as a reporting requirement. Instead, plan administrators and accountants will use an actuarially determined contribution or a statutory contribution for reporting purposes.[18]

ARC historical data[7]
Annual Required Contribution (ARC) Percentage contributed Annual Required Contribution (ARC) Percentage contributed Annual Required Contribution (ARC) Percentage contributed Annual Required Contribution (ARC) Percentage contributed
2012 $7,772,912,572 100% $0 0% $1,366,702,281 14.4% $53,144,136 101.1%
2011 $7,465,397,498 100% $0 0% $1,262,446,956 13.3% $50,949,124 105.7%
2010 $6,955,049,078 100% $0 0% $1,167,007,021 15.9% $44,758,633 95.2%
2009 $6,912,376,563 100% $0 0% $790,911,681 24.1% $42,944,106 92.0%
2008 $7,242,802,002 100% $0 0% $623,532,045 26.2% $31,673,544 116.1%
ARC historical data[8][9]
Fiscal year CalSTRS UCRP
Annual Required Contribution (ARC) Percentage contributed Annual Required Contribution (ARC) Percentage contributed
2012 $6,230,000,000 46% $2,062,022,000 89.79%
2011 $5,985,000,000 47% $1,806,205,000 92.90%
2010 $4,924,000,000 55% $1,695,137,000 8.76%
2009 $4,547,000,000 63% $454,000 100.00%
2008 $4,362,000,000 66% $2,657,000 100.00%

Historical funding levels

Historical pension plan data - all systems
Year Value of assets Accrued liability Unfunded liability Funded ratio
2006 $372,455,476,000 $419,524,708,000 $47,069,232,000 88.78%
2007 $408,766,936,000 $459,900,576,000 $51,133,640,000 88.88%
2008 $432,823,272,000 $492,711,822,000 $59,888,550,000 87.85%
2009 $433,458,773,000 $529,031,525,000 $95,572,752,000 81.93%
2010 $439,208,318,000 $556,224,309,000 $117,015,991,000 78.96%
Change from 2006-2010 $66,752,842,000 $136,699,601,000 $69,946,759,000 -9.82%

Rate of return

For CalPERS, the assumed return rate varies by fund: 7.50 percent for PERF, 5.75 percent for LRF, 4.25 percent for JRF and 7.00 percent for JRF II.[7] CalSTRS and UNCRP presume a 7.50 percent return rate on their pension investments.[8][9]


According to a 2012 analysis by the Pew Center for the States, most state pension plans assume an 8 percent rate of return on investments.[20] Critics assert that this assumption is unrealistic, citing changing market conditions and significantly lower investment returns across the board over the past several years.[21] When states lower the rate of return in an effort to predict investment earnings accurately, it increases the current plan liabilities, thereby lowering the percent funded ratio and causing the ARC to increase. This is because future plan liabilities are discounted based on the rate of return, so smaller expected investment returns result in larger actuarially accrued liabilities.[22] For example, on September 21, 2012, the Illinois Teachers Retirement System voted to lower its rate of return from 8.5 percent to 8.0 percent. This change increased the state's fiscal year 2014 ARC from $3.07 billion to $3.36 billion.[23] Similarly, when California's CalPERS reduced its projected annual rate of return from 7.75 percent to 7.5 percent in March 2012, it cost the state an additional $303 million for fiscal year 2013.[24]

The 2008 financial crisis had a devastating effect on pension plans nationwide and has resulted in slower economic growth and increased market volatility. In light of this, some market strategists find the 8 percent assumption to be overly ambitious. Stanford University Finance Professor Joshua Rauh stated that using past investment performance in this economic climate was "dangerously optimistic."[25] Advocates for a lower assumed rate of return argue that the standard assumptions could cause pension fund managers to engage in more risky investments and imprudent stewardship of public funds. Further, if pension plans were using more conservative assumptions, such as the 3 or 4 percent assumed rate of return used in the private sector, and the plans grew more quickly than expected, the fund would have a surplus and smaller future ARCs, which would be preferable to using optimistic assumptions and potentially being caught with larger-than-expected deficits.[26][27][28][29][30]

On the other hand, traditional public pension plan advocates argue that the dip observed in recent years is not sufficient proof of a long-term, downward trend in investment returns. According to Chris Hoene, executive director at the California Budget Project, "The problem with [the market rate] argument is there isn’t significant evidence other than the short term blip during the economic crisis that there’s been that shift. It’s a speculative argument coming out of a very deep recession."[25]

The National Association of State Retirement Administrators compiled data on the median annualized rate of return for public pensions for the 1-, 3-, 5-, 10-, 20-, and 25-year periods ending in 2013. While the median annualized rate of return failed to meet the 8 percent assumption that most public pensions assume over the 5- and 10-year periods, it was just shy (7.9 percent) over the 20-year period, and it exceeded 8 percent for the 1-, 3-, and 25-year periods. It is important to note that the NASRA data is reporting the median returns, indicating that even though median annualized returns exceeded 8 percent in the 25-year period, the investment portfolios for half of the examined public pension funds failed to meet an 8 percent assumed rate of return.[31]

In September 2013, the nonprofit organization State Budget Solutions published an analysis of state pension funding levels. In its calculations, State Budget Solutions used a 3.2 percent rate of return, the 15-year Treasury bond yield as of August 21, 2013, to discount plan liabilities.

The research found that in all states combined, state public employee pension plans have only 39 percent of the assets they need to cover their promised payments—a $4.1 trillion gap. According to the report, California's public pension plans were 42% funded, making it the 14th most funded state.[32]

Moody's report on adjusted pension liabilities

On June 27, 2013, Moody's Investor Service released its report on adjusted pension liabilities in the states. The Moody's report ranked states "based on ratios measuring the size of their adjusted net pension liabilities (ANPL) relative to several measures of economic capacity." In its calculations of net pension liabilities, Moody's employed market-determined discount rates (5.47 percent for California) instead of the state-reported assumed rates of return (7.75 percent for California's largest plan as of June 30, 2010).[33]

The report's authors found that adjusted net pension liabilities varied dramatically from state to state, from 6.8 percent (Nebraska) to 241 percent (Illinois) of governmental revenues in fiscal year 2011.[33]

The adjusted net pension liability for California in fiscal year 2011 was ranked the second highest in the nation.[33] The following table presents key state-specific findings from the Moody's report, as well as the state's national rank with respect to each indicator.

Adjusted net pension liabilities (ANPL) relative to key economic indicators - California
Governmental revenue* Personal income State GDP Per capita
State findings 61.8% 7.3% 6.2% $3,206
National ranking 16th 23rd 23rd 20th
*Moody's uses governmental revenues as reported in each state's consolidated annual financial reports; this includes not only state-generated revenue, but federal funds, as well.[33]

Pension fund management fees

See also: Public pension fund management fees

In July 2013, the Maryland Public Policy Institute (MPPI) and the Maryland Tax Education Foundation released a report detailing the fees paid for the management of state pension systems. According to MPPI, the 10 state pension funds that paid the most in management fees relative to net assets experienced lower returns over a five-year period than the 10 state pension funds that paid the least in management fees. For example, in fiscal year 2012 South Carolina's pension system paid approximately $296.1 million in total management fees (1.31 percent of total net assets at the beginning of the fiscal year) and its five-year rate of return was 1.46 percent. By contrast, Alabama's pension system paid roughly $13.3 million in management fees (0.05 percent of total net assets) and its five-year rate of return was 7.53 percent.[34]

The table below presents the information collected by MPPI for California and surrounding states. For each state's pension system, total net assets are listed (both for the beginning and end of the fiscal year in question), as well as the total amount paid in management fees. In addition, the rates of return for the pension systems are presented. Compared to surrounding states, California had significantly higher total net assets.

Public pension fund management fees, 2011-2012
State Fiscal year Total net assets at the beginning of the year Total net assets at the end of the year Total management fees Management fees as a percentage of total net assets at the beginning of the year Five-year rate of return for the pension fund
California 2012 $397,107,606,000 $388,300,002,000 $960,532,000 0.24% -0.10%
Oregon 2012 $55,794,848,695 $53,659,423,570 $335,163,728 0.60% 1.80%
Washington 2012 $68,311,800,000 $67,887,700,000 $297,354,000 0.44% 1.20%
1"Three states— Hawaii, Nevada and Rhode Island—were excluded because they hadn’t published CAFRs for fiscal years ending December 31, 2011 or later. West Virginia was excluded because its June 30, 2012 CAFR lacked sufficient disclosure."[34]
Source: Maryland Public Policy Institute, "Wall Street Fees, Investment Returns, Maryland 49 Other State Pension Funds," July 1, 2013


Enacted reforms


On September 12, 2012, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law significant reforms to the state's pension system. Notable changes included:[35][36]

  • Raising the minimum retirement age for most public workers from 50 to 52
  • Capping pension payouts at $132,120 per year
  • Requiring higher contributions from employees

Brown had initially proposed a more comprehensive pension reform package, which included the creation of a "hybrid" plan. Republican Assembly member Chris Norby said of the discrepancies between the governor's original proposal and the enacted reforms, "The governor offered us a car. This is more like a tricycle. It's never going to get us there." Democratic Assembly member James Beall Jr. said, "This is not something we're going to do overnight. We're going to have to work on this over the next several years."[35]

CalPERS estimated that the reforms would save between $42 and $55 billion over 30 years. CalSTRS projected savings over 30 years at $22.7 billion.[36] The legislation (Assembly Bill 340) easily cleared both the Assembly and the Senate.[36][37]


Corruption, bribery and fraud in CalPERS top management

On July 11, 2014, former CalPERS CEO Fred Buenrostro pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud. As part of a plea bargain, Buenrostro admitted in court that during his tenure as CEO of CalPERS from 2002 to 2008, he accepted approximately $200,000 in cash, delivered in paper bags and a shoebox, as well as other bribes from Alfred J. Villalobos. Buenrostro was bribed as part of a effort to win $3 billion in business managing pension money by the New York money management firm, Apollo Global Management LLC. The company claims it knew nothing of the bribe and has not been charged with any wrongdoing. According to the plea agreement, after a senior CalPERS investment official refused to provide the disclosure documents requested by Apollo, Buenrostro provided fraudulent documents, which enabled Villalobos to collect a $14 million placement agent fee. According to a 2012 report by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Villalobos collected at least $48 million in fees for his work as a so-called placement agent from 2005 to 2009.[38][39]

Villalobos, former deputy mayor of Los Angeles and former CalPERS board member, bribed Buenrostro and other pension officials in an effort to "influence billions of dollars in pension fund investment decisions" for a variety of businesses Villalobos represented. In addition to the aforementioned cash bribe, Villalobos gave Buenrostro casino chips, financed his trips, and hired him to work for his investment firm following his departure from CalPERS in 2008. A special review of placement agents issued by CalPERS in March 2011, said that the attorney general and the SEC were investigating a payment by Medco Health Solutions, which had lost the CalPERS pharmacy benefits contract, to Villalobos that “may have included improper conduct” by Buenrostro and other former board members.[40][41][42]

Buenrostro's sentencing is scheduled for January 7, 2015. He faces up to five years in prison, as well as a $250,000 fine. Buenrostro has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors pursuing charges against Villalobos. The case is U.S. v. Villalobos, 13-cr-00169, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).[40]

Local public pensions

See also: Local government public pensions

According to the United States Census Bureau, the state has 57 locally-administered pension plans.[5]


See also: Public pension disclosure and Governmental Accounting Standards Board
  • The names of pension recipients are available, as are amounts disbursed.[43]
  • As a matter of state law, the California Public Records Act allows an individual to request the above data, but it is not yet available as an online resource.
  • Pension fund investment performance data is available.[44]
  • The Risk and Audit Committee performs annual audits.[45]
  • Pension lobbying information is available in a quarterly report.[46]

Recent news

This section displays the most recent stories in a Google news search for the term "California + public + pensions"

All stories may not be relevant to this page due to the nature of the search engine.

California Public Pensions News Feed

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See also

Additional reading

External links


  1. Figures below are compiled by adding up all state pension plans
  2. This figure is derived by calculating the percent difference between the current year's funding level and the system's percent funded from the prior year.
  3. Rank is relative to the 50 state pension programs. "1" refers to the healthiest pension plan while "50" would be the least well-funded plan.
  4. State of California, "2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report," accessed November 25, 2013
  5. 5.0 5.1 United States Census Bureau, "Public Employee Retirement Systems State- and Locally-Administered Pensions Summary Report: 2010," April 30, 2012
  6. 6.0 6.1 Pew Center on the States, "Widening Gap Update: California," June 18, 2012
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 California Public Employees' Retirement System, "2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report," accessed November 25, 2013
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 California State Teachers' Retirement System, "2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report," accessed November 25, 2013
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 University of California Retirement Plan, "2012 Actuarial Valuation Report," accessed November 25, 2013
  10. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, "Pensions Glossary," accessed November 27, 2013
  11. United States Government Accountability Office, "State and Local Government Retiree Benefits: Current Status of Benefit Structures, Protections, and Fiscal Outlook for Funding Future Costs," September 2007
  12. American Academy of Actuaries, "Issue Brief: The 80% Pension Funding Standard Myth," July 2012
  13. Governing Magazine, " Is There a Plot Against Pensions?" October 14, 2013
  14. 14.0 14.1 State Budget Solutions, "Promises Made, Promises Broken - The Betrayal of Pensioners and Taxpayers," accessed September 20, 2013
  15. 15.0 15.1 Analysis only available for system totals and not individual funds.
  16. Government Accounting Standards Board, "Annual Required Contribution (ARC)," accessed October 17, 2013
  17. Reuters, "Little-known U.S. board stokes hot pension debate," July 10, 2012
  18. State Budget Solutions, "GASB's ineffective public pension reporting standards set to take effect," June 5, 2013
  19. University of California Retirement Plan, "2010 Actuarial Valuation Report," accessed November 25, 2013
  20. "The Widening Gap Update,” Pew Center on the States, accessed October 17, 2013
  21. The New York Times "Public Pensions Faulted for Bets on Rosy Returns," May 27, 2012
  22. Benefits Magazine "Public Pension Funding 101: Key Terms and Concepts," April 2013. accessed October 23, 2013
  23. Crain's Chicago Business "State teachers pension board lowers expected rate of return," September 21, 2013. accessed October 23, 2013
  24. Huffington Post "California Pension Funds Expect Lower Investment Return," March 14, 2012. accessed October 23, 2013
  25. 25.0 25.1 Governing "Expert: Governments Are Masking Their Pension Liabilities ," October 25, 2013. accessed October 25, 2013
  26. The Washington Post "Kansas’s pension funding gap just grew by $1 billion," September 6, 2013. accessed October 25, 2013
  27. Topeka Capital-Journal "KPERS' unfunded liability rises to $10.2B," September 4, 2013. accessed October 25, 2013
  28. Wall Street Journal "Pensions Wrestle With Return Rates," October 10, 2011. accessed October 23, 2013
  29. The Courant "Promising Too Much On Public Pensions," August 10, 2012. accessed October 23, 2013
  30. Business Wire "NCPERS 2013 Survey: Public Pension Plans Report Increasing Confidence, Lower Costs, Growing Returns," October 22, 2013. accessed October 25, 2013
  31. National Association of State Retirement Administrators "Issue Brief: Public Pension Plan Investment Return Assumptions," October 2013. accessed October 23, 2013
  32. State Budget Solutions, "Promises Made, Promises Broken - The Betrayal of Pensioners and Taxpayers," accessed September 20, 2013
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 33.3 Moody's Investor Service, "Adjusted Pension Liability Medians for US States," June 27, 2013
  34. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named report
  35. 35.0 35.1 Reuters, "California legislature approves pension reform," August 31, 2012
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 The Huffington Post, "California Pension Reform Bill Signed into Law by Gov. Jerry Brown," September 12, 2012
  37. California State Legislature, "AB 340, Chaptered," accessed November 25, 2013
  38. Public CEO, "Will Anything New Emerge in CalPERS Scandal?' July 14, 2014
  39. Los Angeles Times, "Former CEO of CalPERS pleads guilty to fraud, corruption charge," July 11, 2014
  40. 40.0 40.1 The Sacramento Bee, "Ex-CalPERS chief admits receiving $200,000 in bribes in paper bag, shoebox," July 11, 2014
  41., "The Latest Public-Sector Pension Scandal," July 11, 2014.
  42., "Will anything new emerge in CalPERS scandal?", accessed July 18, 2014
  43. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, "California court rules pension info must be disclosed," June 29, 2011
  44. California Public Employees' Retirement System, "CalPERS Investments," accessed November 25, 2013
  45. California Public Employees' Retirement System, "Risk and Audit Committee," accessed November 25, 2013
  46. California Public Employees' Retirement System, "Registered CalPERS Lobbyists Quarterly Report," May 25, 2012