Pension Funding & Rates of Return

In a March 18th interview (view video), California Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman expressed the problem with pensions quite accurately, stating “there is a current period cost of pensions, and that cost is only going to increase.” Whitman went on to say that CalPERS may lower the long-term rate of return they use for their pension fund earnings projections. One of the solutions Whitman offered to California’s pension crisis was to suggest California’s non-safety employees defer retirement from the current age 55 to age 65, and also for California’s non-safety employees to contribute 10% of their salary to their pension fund instead of 5%. How much will this help?

If we assume these reforms are applied at the local level as well – since most public employees in California work at the local level – the calculation of savings based on doubling the average employee contribution from 5% to 10% is fairly straightforward. There are about 1.6 million non-safety, non-federal public employees in California, and their average salary is $60,000 per year. If you take 5% of that, $3,000, and multiply by 1.6 million, you get nearly $5.0 billion per year in savings to the taxpayer. Is this significant? Will this help?

To answer this question, the biggest variable by far is what rate of return you calculate for the pension funds themselves. To illustrate this, consider the impact of Whitman’s other proposal, to raise the retirement age from 55 to 65 years old. As the table below […] Read More

No Profits, No Pensions

California Gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown knows he’s in a fight. His presumptive Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, not only is doing a good job presenting herself as a socially moderate, fiscally conservative candidate, but she has abundant personal wealth she can tap in order to finance her campaign. So Jerry Brown has to turn to the only reliable source of campaign cash out there, the public employee unions.

In Joel Fox’s report of March 22nd entitled “Brown Embraces the Public Unions,” Fox quotes Brown as saying “California’s fiscal problems are not the unions’ fault but that of Wall Street and corporations.” Get ready for a campaign season filled with more bashing of corporations. And here are some reasons why this rhetoric is absurd, nihilistic, corrosive, deceptive, utterly bankrupt, and at least to-date, tragically effective:

Public sector unions are by far the most powerful source of campaign cash in California. They can pretty much spend as much as they want to make sure their candidates get elected, and their opponents are defeated. Without these unions, Jerry Brown wouldn’t have a chance against Meg Whitman. But is Brown only singing the union song in order to get their financial support? After all, in late February 2010, in a closed meeting with a group of California business leaders, Brown admitted the single greatest mistake he made as Governor back in the 1970’s was his decision to sign legislation allowing public sector workers to unionize.

Public sector unions have […] Read More