As states and cities debate whether benefits can or should be cut back for public workers, a new study suggests some of those workers have a lot more to fight for than others.

The study found that public school teachers’ retirement benefits — at least the part taxpayers pay for — are smaller than those of virtually any other type of public employee, despite frequent claims that teachers’ pensions are excessive and diverting precious dollars from education and other essential government services.

It appears, in fact, that the teachers in the study would be better off if their current pension plan were scrapped entirely, and replaced by one cutting the defined benefit portion and adding a defined contribution feature. Public employees, and the unions that represent them, have generally resisted any such shift, arguing that a traditional defined-benefit pension provides the best security in retirement.

The study, by the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, analyzed employee benefits only in that state, one of the most fiscally troubled and the seat of a long-running debate about public pensions and whether they are crowding out other public spending. But the foundation’s president, Marcia Fritz, said her researchers had devised a straightforward way of comparing retirement benefits that could be used easily by analysts in other states.

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