Saturday, July 11, 2009

California's Education and Pension Costs Out of Control

From AP writer Judy Lin:

Funding for K-12 schools and community colleges accounts for roughly half of annual state spending.

Funny how we haven't gotten smarter, but we've definitely gotten poorer. Meanwhile, California's state worker pension fund--which includes teachers' pensions--is still worth $177.7 billion. (Yes, that's billion with a "b.")

After years of staying mostly neutral, the San Jose Mercury News (July 7, 2009) finally issued an editorial opinion asking Sacramento to enact pension reform:

The unfortunate truth is that the Democrat-controlled Legislature has been too quick to increase pension benefits and will resist reconsidering them unless it's forced to. Now is the time to do that...

Now, because of stock market declines and rising costs of health care, retirement costs are already siphoning $3.3 billion from the state budget, just when California is facing substantial cuts in education and services to the poor. That cost is expected to rise steeply. [Emphasis added]

By the way, in case you're wondering,
state workers get the following benefits: "3 percent of pay for every year worked, up to 90 percent maximum after 30 years for safety officers and 60 percent for other employees." Where can non-government workers get 60% of their salary guaranteed in retirement? If you discover a place that allows non-executives to claim the 60% retirement bracket, let me know. I won't be holding my breath.

Update on July 12, 2009:

For the record, I favor increasing teachers' salaries as long as pension costs are eliminated. Why not replace teachers' pensions with 403b plans (the public-sector equivalent of a 401k)? If a 401k/403b is good enough for a Google/Apple/Target employee, why isn't it good enough for a government employee, too?

The average government worker should not have better retirement benefits than the average non-government worker. Is a secretary or lawyer who works for the government "better" than a secretary who works for Pfizer or Pepsi? I don't think so, especially not when the modern economy is so inter-connected.

Retirement benefits like lifetime pensions and lifetime medical care are inherently unstable because you have to predict how long a worker will live--that's not an easy task. As a result, costs are unpredictable, which makes accurate budget planning difficult. Why not create a budget framework that allows us to definitively ascertain employee costs without worrying about the ticking time bombs of unfunded, unpredictable long-term liabilities?

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