Audit Estimates Legal “Pension Spiking” by CalPERS Members Could Cost State $800 Million

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The California Controller released an audit on Tuesday that found a particular brand of “pension spiking”, although perfectly legal, could cost California $800 million over the next 20 years. From California Healthline:

Dozens of public agencies that contract with CalPERS have engaged in a legal form of pension spiking, putting the state on the hook for nearly $800 million over the next 20 years, according to an audit released Tuesday by the State Controller’s Office, AP/KPCC’s “KPCC News” reports (“KPCC News,” AP/KPCC, 9/9).

The legal practice involves employers withdrawing commitments to cover employees’ pension costs in their final year of work and instead adding the value of the payment to the employee’s salary. The practice was legal under a 1993 law but has since been prohibited for new employees.

The audit found that 97 agencies that contract with CalPERS have amendments allowing them to engage in the practice.

The amendments increased CalPERS members’ compensation by $39.1 million in pensionable pay annually, which could result in as much as $796 million in such compensation over two decades.

The audit found that CalPERS doesn’t have the resources to audit the 3,000 agencies with which it contracts. CalPERS said it has hired more staff recently to combat that issue, but it’s not enough. From California Healthline:

The pension fund also has insufficient resources for auditing all of the 3,100 public agencies with which it contracts. For example, the audit found that a local government contracting with CalPERS would only be audited by the pension fund every 66 years. Since the audit was performed, CalPERS has hired more staff, but the agency is still only capable of performing audits on a contracting entity once every 33 years, according to the controller’s office.

In a release, Controller John Chiang (D) said the prevalence of such issues “invites abuse” and that the pension fund “must be more vigorous in protecting taxpayers from this form of public theft.”

View the Controller’s entire audit here.


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