07/17/2018

Coy about taxes and pension costs

So why are so many local entities feeling strapped?

Local officials will tell you, if you don’t quote them by name, that it’s mostly because their mandatory payments into the state’s two big pension funds are soaring.

The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) lost tens of billions of dollars during the recession a decade ago and have never fully recovered.

CalPERS has steadily and sharply increased financial demands from cities, counties and school districts for their civil service workers while the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown cranked up contributions to CalSTRS from school systems to cover teacher pensions.

. . . One example is in Sacramento, whose mayor, Darrell Steinberg, wants his voters to reauthorize a half-cent sales tax that will soon expire and to add another half-cent.

In a recent speech, he called his proposal “a real game changer” that would finance affordable housing, shelters and services for the homeless, job training in low-income communities and small-business incentives.

However, simple arithmetic tells us otherwise. The additional half-cent of sales tax would generate less than $40 million a year, city budget documents say, while by the city’s own estimate, its mandatory payments to CalPERS are expected to increase from $81.6 million a year to $129 million by 2023.

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