CalSTRS at risk of disaster despite 2014 bailout

Four years after the state Legislature passed a bailout of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System that will nearly double annual direct contributions to the giant pension fund, a newly released internal report raises the prospect that the infusion of extra dollars may not protect CalSTRS from future disaster.

The 2014 changes in funding required districts to more than double their CalSTRS contributions, phasing in an increase from 8.25 percent of teacher pay in 2013-14 to 19.1 percent in 2020-21. Individual teachers and the state government also were required to pay more. But about 70 percent of the new funding – which will push total annual contributions from nearly $6 billion in 2013-14 to $11 billion in 2021 – is coming from districts.

The assumption in 2014 was that this extra funding was so significant that CalSTRS’ long-term viability was assured. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office billed the hikes as a “major state accomplishment.”

On Nov. 8, however, the CalSTRS board was presented with a “risk report” that included both upbeat and gloomy scenarios. As Ed Mendel reported on the Calpensions website, the report found that if investment returns met their 7 percent target, CalSTRS’ retirement liabilities would be 100 percent funded by 2046 – a vast improvement on the present 70 percent.

. . .But whether a 7 percent projected annual return is reasonable isn’t just questioned by pension watchdogs like Stanford professor Joe Nation and former Schwarzenegger policy adviser David Crane. CalSTRS’ number crunchers concluded that “even with the new rate increases, there is still a 50 percent probability that the CalSTRS funding level will drop below 50 percent in the next 30 year, according to 5,000 simulations based on the current asset allocation,” Mendel reported. Going below the 50 percent threshold is considered by many pension experts the point of no return, with little prospect that stricken retirement funds could ever rebound.

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