Gov. Jerry Brown’s initial foray into the debate about reforming the pension systems for government employees was greeted by derision from both sides, which is not unexpected given his predicament. The governor understands as well as anyone that California cannot provide even the most basic level of public services while continuing to finance unsustainable state and local public pension benefits. At the same time, he knows that the only Democrats with the backbone to tell public employee unions that they must face reality are Democrats who don’t depend on votes to keep their jobs.
The governor inherited the pension crisis just as he inherited California’s other fiscal crises. The numbers defy the imagination: If the state government completely shut down and spent every tax dollar it receives on government employee pensions, it would take eight years to fully fund those plans.
Consider the California State Teachers Retirement System. The system’s unfunded liability – the difference between the promised benefits and the money to pay for them – is $56 billion, or $127,000 for each 441,544 active member.
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