Thursday, December 1, 2011

Audio of Legislative Hearing on Public Pensions

Audio of Dec. 1, 2011 hearing by the legislative Conference Committee on Public Employee Pensions on Gov. Jerry Brown's proposals for state and local public pensions in California.

Click on link above. If you don't want to listen to the full four and a half hours, scroll towards the bottom to hear the governor's testimony and UC's testimony.

Testimony by representatives of the Dept. of Finance, the Legislative Analyst's Office, Gov. Jerry Brown in person, CalPERS, CalSTRS, State Assn. of County Retirement Systems, University of California pension system, Employer groups (League of California Cities, California State Assn. of Counties, California Special Districts), Employee union groups (CTA, California School Employees Assn., Professional Engineers & Scientists, AFSCME, Peace Officers Research Assn.), Public Comments. See earlier post for agenda of this hearing. Gov. Brown was not on the original agenda.

Dept. of Finance: The governor’s 50-50 sharing of contributions idea refers to the normal cost, not the unfunded liability. The 75% notion is not a cap but a kind of goal. There was vague reference to a dollar cap. But much was unclear. It was said that the Dept. of Finance would be hiring a consultant to work out details. There would be a minimum early retirement age but it is not clear what that will be. There was an allusion to a 6-month period to get an actual hybrid plan in shape. There was some discussion of legal issues surrounding “impairment of contracts” but again there was fuzziness. It came up in the context of what the governor wanted to put on the ballot in the way of constitutional changes. The only clear cut response was that it would be necessary for voters to approve changes in the CalPERS board.

Legislative Analyst’s Office (Jason Sisney): Noted there are thousands of pension plans and occupations so putting together a plan will be complicated. There was reference to the total compensation idea (if you cut pensions, other forms of compensation may need to rise so the savings may be offset). The details are not yet in the governor’s plan. Legal doubts raised about changes for current employees, even changes in contributions. Recommended not fiddling with current workers. Thus, changes would be for new hires so there would be little short term savings. Specifically cautioned about high paid workers and need to be competitive, particularly university professors who are recruited in a national market.

Gov. Brown: Philosophized about debt, Greek financial crisis, Europe. At one point, referring to a statement by CalPERS that freezing its plan would cut off incoming contributions from new hires, said that seemed like a Ponzi scheme. That is, if a plan depended on new people coming in, it sounded like a Ponzi scheme. This remark could be a media sound bite. Told the Democrats that there will be taxes on the ballot they would like voters to pass but unless there is a pension reform also on the ballot, the taxes won’t pass. So there needs to be compromise, balance, etc.

Note: The Ponzi scheme quote has already hit the news:

CalPERS: Prefers pure defined benefit to hybrid of defined benefit and defined contribution. The latter is more expensive to administer and will earn less. Said the proposed ban on contribution holidays when plans become overfunded could violate tax rules and lead to loss of tax-exempt status. Tried to respond to governor’s Ponzi comment without using the word Ponzi. Said what was meant was that if a pension plan such as CalPERS is frozen (closed), it no longer gets cash from new hires and it needs cash for paying benefits. Need for cash flow would cause it to invest in assets that throw off a lot of cash and therefore have lower rates of return. The answer was not great since if the plan were really 100% funded, you could in theory freeze it and pay off the obligations. CalPERS problem (and the reason for the governor’s proposal) is largely a matter of unfunded liabilities.

CalSTRS: CalSTRS is recognized as the most problematic state plan. Spokesperson noted that the governor’s plan doesn’t deal with CalSTRS’ unfunded liability. Complained about fuzziness in governor’s plan as to who pays for the defined contribution component. But polite language that the governor’s plan was a good “starting point.”

County Systems: Noted that there were many plans. They are already negotiating two-tier arrangements and other features such as increased contributions similar to the governor’s plan. Doubts raised about hybrid proposal. Total compensation point made (if you cut pensions, you have to raise something else).

University of California: (Nathan Brostrom and Gary Schlimgen) Some history of the UC system. Discussed the two-decade contribution holiday. The other sources of funding are paying but not the state. Regents have been ramping up contributions but must pay for state share out of operating budget funds. Defined benefit model helps retain mid-career faculty but encourages retirement so that there is faculty renewal at older ages. Discussion of Regents’ pension changes of 2010 after PEB report. Many features of the governor’s plan have already been adopted by UC such as two tier. We already have 3-year HAPC to prevent spiking. UC doesn’t offer “airtime” purchases of past service unlike CalPERS. Regents are not plan members so no conflict of interest in serving as plan trustees. UC doesn’t make retroactive improvements. UC is less generous than the state on retiree health care. UC has problems with 50-50 contribution proposal for current employees. Hybrid model is problematic. 75% replacement target is too low for retention/recruitment. Some UC unions have already agreed to two tier. The constraints in the governor’s plan would make collective bargaining more difficult. UC plan has the right balance. (Note: brief break in audio stream towards end.) In Q&A period, pointed to current projection of full funding by 2039. Notes that contributions of current employees are rising as part of that projection.

Local Employer groups: There was again reference to the idea that the tax status of plans could be at risk if an overfunded plan could not have a contribution holiday.

State and Local Employee groups: No unexpected points.

Public comment: Included some external groups pushing pension reforms.

Part 1 of Gov. Brown's testimony

Part 2 of Gov. Brown's Testimony

Part 1: UC Testimony

Part 2: UC Testimony