Teacher pension problems catch lawmakers’ attention

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) speaks to reporters in the Capitol on Thursday.
(Chris Megerian / Los Angeles Times)

SACRAMENTO -- For years, problems with California’s pension fund for teachers and school employees have been growing. Now a new report says the fund needs an additional $4.5 billion every year -- more than Sacramento spends on both university systems combined -- to stay above water.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) told reporters on Thursday that lawmakers can’t ignore the growing costs.

“This is a serious issue,” he said. “We have to address it.”

Steinberg said solutions may include forcing current teachers to contribute a larger share of their paycheck into the pension fund, known as CalSTRS.


School districts, Sacramento and employees are expected to contribute a total of $5.7 billion into the fund during the current fiscal year. About $2.1 billion comes from the employees and $2.2 billion is supplied by the districts, with the state chipping in the balance of $1.4 billion.

The teachers pension fund had an unfunded liability of $73 billion as of June 2012, an increase from $64.5 billion the year before. Without changes, it could run out of money by 2044.

The Wednesday report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office said problems with the fund “may be the state’s most difficult fiscal challenge.”

When asked why lawmakers haven’t already addressed the issue, Steinberg pointed to pension cuts approved by the Legislature last year.

“While we made great strides, we still have a lot more work to do,” he said.


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Twitter: @chrismegerian