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State government

Gov. Brown's state budget projects an $8-billion pension payment next year

 (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

California taxpayers will soon fund the steepest rise in public employee pension contributions since 2014, and Gov. Jerry Brown suggested this week that the long-term costs will continue to be an important — but controversial — topic.

Brown's proposed budget includes a combined $8.1 billion for payments to the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS). Public-sector pensions are financed through a combination of employee contributions, taxpayer dollars and profits earned by pension fund investments.

That figure includes a $524-million increase in annual CalPERS payments, the largest single-year boost in four years. Last month, the agency's directors voted to lower their official investment assumptions, thus triggering a higher mandated payment from state and local governments .

The governor acknowledged on Tuesday the challenge in paying for retirement promises, as critics insist that investment returns will be lower than expected and public employee unions insist that the criticism is aimed at eliminating benefits promised to hundreds of thousands of workers.

"I would say that this will be a lively topic, but I think we’ve taken some solid steps," Brown said on efforts to handle rising pension costs. "But in something so delicate, and so political, I would say we’re doing about what could be expected and will continue to take advantage of opportunities as they come up."

The Times, in partnership with the nonprofit journalism organization CalMatters and Sacramento's Capital Public Radio, has been taking an in-depth look at the state's pension crisis and efforts to resolve it.

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