CalSTRS Admits Annual Pension Funding Must Increase

California’s unionized public employees, who enjoy pensions that average at least five-times what a social security recipient can hope to receive, love to claim they have a “contract” that makes reducing these pension benefits impossible.

They certainly do have a contract – sort of like the contract an underworld boss might order on a troublesome associate. Except in this example the underworld bosses are public employee unions, the troublesome associates are the taxpayers, and the “contract” requires the taxpayers to cover public employee pension fund returns. That is, whenever government worker retirement funds fail to achieve their projected returns, the taxpayer covers the difference with higher taxes. Nice deal for Wall Street brokerages, who get to manage all the money with no risk. Nice deal for unionized government workers, who enjoy retirements that are, on average, five times better than social security. Really, really bad deal for the taxpayer.

Spokespersons for the government unions and the government worker pension funds have long stated that “the market has just been beat up a bit lately,” and “investment professionals assure us there is no cause for concern.” But the sobering truth is starting to emerge, and according to “contract,” taxpayers are going to get hit hard.

On December 20th the CalSTRS CEO, Jack Ehnes, in a rather convoluted acknowledgement on the “Ask Jack” section of CalSTRS website, admitted that funding to CalSTRS would have to increase by $3.8 billion per year for the next 30 years. Here is what he wrote:

“Recent media reports have suggested that to solve the unfunded liability the state will have to increase CalSTRS funding by $3.8 billion a year for 30 years for a total of more than $114 billion.

Although this is an accurate statement based on current projections, achieving adequate funding can occur several ways that would be phased in over time. The CalSTRS $56 billion funding shortfall can be managed, but it will require gradual and predictable increases in contributions.”

Despite the supposedly reassuring phrase “achieving adequate funding can occur several ways that would be phased in over time,” the fact that even the CalSTRS CEO is himself acknowledging this degree of funding shortfall should belie any thoughts that the number is overstated.

Putting aside for the moment the probability that this $3.8 billion per year is nowhere near the actual additional amount that will be necessary to adequately fund CalSTRS, how much does this latest salvo – pursuant to the contract on California taxpayers – cost per household?

First remember that of 12 million households in California, 47% of them pay no taxes. Also remember that at least another 10% of these households have a state or local government worker living in them. This means that 57% of California’s households are exempt from the contract on California, leaving 43%, or 5.2 million households to cover these new payments.

Second, remember that similar shortfalls exist within all unionized government worker pension funds in California, and CalSTRS only covers teachers, which at most only comprise about 40% of California’s state and local government workforce. This means the $3.8 billion per year CalSTRS shortfall, applied to all state and local government worker pension funds, would expand to $9.5 billion per year.

Anyone who thinks CalPERS or the LA County pension fund, or any other local government worker pension funds in California are in any better financial shape than CalSTRS is welcome to dismiss this logic. Otherwise, according to their own spokespersons, we now are looking for another $9.5 billion per year of additional taxes to keep our government worker pension funds in California solvent.

This equates to nearly $2,000 per year in additional taxes on those 5.2 million households in California who actually pay taxes. That’s just additional taxes, that’s just for pensions, and that is based on what is almost certainly the minimum amount it is going to take to establish financially sound pensions for California’s unionized state and local government workers.

The unionized government worker’s “contract on California” must make everyone who crows about the inviolability of contracts quite proud.

3 replies
  1. Avatar
    Jack Tachspeyr says:

    Anyone who thinks Wall Street wants to do away with the system as it is currently is incredibly naive. What taxpayer supported public employee pension investment funds offer Wall Street is the best of all worlds. A guaranteed cash flow that nationally totals several hundred billion per year of taxpayer’s money into Wall Street brokerages. These brokerages then get to invest this money while knowing that if the returns are not met, the taxpayers will cover the difference.

    The amount of money that pours through Wall Street every year by public employee pension funds is by far the most money, on the most favorable terms, that Wall Street ever sees. They love this system, and the fact that there is so much money coming into Wall Street from taxpayers via these pension funds, with zero risk, exercises huge distortions in the market and definitely diminishes returns for small investors.

  2. Avatar
    Tough Love says:


    Your 1-st 3 paragraphs hit the nail n the head ….. which is why Taxpayers (85% of whom are NOT riding this gravy train) should renege on these grossly excessive “promises” (where NOBODY at that “bargaining table” represented THEIR interests) and refuse to fund these pensions any further.

    Let the Plan buy pensions UP TO currently available assets …. and no more.

    Greed HAS consequences.

  3. Avatar
    Rex! says:

    First remember that of 12 million households in California, 47% of them pay no taxes.
    That is false. They may not pay any INCOME taxes but everyone in this state pays taxes-the sales tax is by far the biggest and most regressive.

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