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Decade of data shows California pensions are carrying $198 billion in unfunded liability

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SACRAMENTO, California — With each passing year, California taxpayers are increasingly liable for billions of dollars more to cover retirement benefits for police, firefighters, teachers and other public employees, according to a massive amount of pension data recently released by the state Controller's Office.

A decade of financial data posted by Controller John Chiang on his open-data website, ByTheNumbers.sco.ca.gov , shows that the state's 130 public pension systems are carrying $198 billion in unfunded liability in 2013, compared with $6.3 billion of unfunded liability in 2003.

The systems run by the state, cities and other government agencies range from the nation's largest public pension system, the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) with $281.1 billion in assets in 2013, to the smallest, the City of Pittsburg Miscellaneous Employees' Retirement System of 1962, with assets of less than $9,000.

"By pushing our state into the digital age of providing knowledge and information, I hope to empower greater citizen participation in how government handles a policy matter which is central to California's long-term prosperity," Chiang said in a statement.

Chiang, a Democrat who recently cruised to victory in the state treasurer's race, has been using his position as the state's chief fiscal officer to make government records transparent and accessible. In a recent audit report, he criticized CalPERS for a passive approach that he said invites abuse.

PHOTO: FILE - In this March 15, 2011 file photo, California State Controller John Chiang looks over some papers during a meeting in Sacramento. With each passing year, California taxpayers are increasingly liable for billions of dollars more to cover retirement benefits for police, firefighters, teachers and other public employees. According to a decade of pension data recently released by the Controller’s Office, the state’s 130 public pension systems went from carrying $6.3 billion of unfunded liability in 2003 to $198 billion in 2013. Chiang, a Democrat who recently cruised to victory in the state treasurer’s race, has been using his position as the state’s chief fiscal officer to make government records transparent and accessible.(AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this March 15, 2011 file photo, California State Controller John Chiang looks over some papers during a meeting in Sacramento. With each passing year, California taxpayers are increasingly liable for billions of dollars more to cover retirement benefits for police, firefighters, teachers and other public employees. According to a decade of pension data recently released by the Controller’s Office, the state’s 130 public pension systems went from carrying $6.3 billion of unfunded liability in 2003 to $198 billion in 2013. Chiang, a Democrat who recently cruised to victory in the state treasurer’s race, has been using his position as the state’s chief fiscal officer to make government records transparent and accessible.(AP Photo, File)

The website allows users to compare data from multiple pension systems, track trends over the past 10 fiscal years and download raw data.

The controller warns that many of the state's public pension systems are unhealthy. In 2013, there were 17 plans that were underfunded by at least 40 percent, and another 45 were funded between 60 and 80 percent. Only 22 were funded at over 80 percent, the benchmark often used to measure solvency.

The state is also responsible for a growing number of retirees. In 2003, there were 816,208 retired workers drawing pensions from defined benefit systems. In 2013, the number of retirees had grown to 1.22 million.

"CalPERS' leaders have done a lot of work over recent years to improve and ensure the long-term sustainability of our system," said Rosanna Westmoreland, a spokeswoman for the fund, "and we think the controller's database is a welcome tool to help inform policymakers and the public about the health of public pensions."

CalPERS reported $57.4 billion in unfunded liabilities for 2013.

A message left for Service Employees International Union Local 1000, the largest state employees union, was not returned Friday.

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