Dan Walters: Could California pension system be underwater?

Very quietly, CalPERS officials told its governing board last month that the trust fund actually lost 3.9 percent during 2018, apparently due to the sharp stock market decline late in the year, pushing its funded level back down to about 67 percent.

Having just two-thirds of the assets needed to cover pension promises should be a wakeup call to the state’s politicians, but under pressure from powerful public employees unions, most prefer to ignore it.

. . . Furthermore, the official assumption that CalPERS is even two-thirds funded may be wildly optimistic.

With very little media notice, the Federal Reserve System late last year doubled its calculation of state and local governments’ unfunded pension liabilities to $4.1 trillion, using a new methodology that was devised by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.

. . . Using that methodology, CalPERS’ current unfunded liabilities, officially $179 billion, could be more like $360 billion, completely overwhelming the fund’s current assets and making it, on paper at least, hopelessly insolvent.

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