Fitch Weighs In On New CalPERS Compensation Rules

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This week, CalPERS approved 99 types of additional income that workers can include in their pension calculations.

The change will increase the pensions of many workers in the CalPERS system, and the fund has already drawn flak from California Governor Jerry Brown.

Now, the credit rating agency Fitch is in on the game, too. Fitch says the changes will increase pension liabilities and present additional costs to the state. From Fitch:

The expanded definition of pensionable compensation exposes public employers to higher pension liabilities and contribution expenses, and appears to be a step backward from recent reforms. The Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013 (PEPRA) narrowed the definition of pensionable compensation for public employees in an effort to address “pension spiking,” the inflation of base pay for purposes of pension benefit calculations. This decision expands the definition of pensionable compensation, in apparent conflict with PEPRA, and will increase pension costs for public employers if implemented.

The magnitude of impact from this decision is not yet clear, but it raises more questions about the sustainability of California’s pension reform efforts, which continue to face legal and institutional challenges. Particularly worrisome to Fitch is the absence of detailed information on the analysis of its projected costs. The decision has been sharply criticized by Gov. Jerry Brown, who cited its conflicts with recent state legislation intended to reduce pension costs. City-led pension reform efforts in San Diego and San Jose remain mired in litigation while this CalPERS decision appears to open up a new front for challenging reform efforts.

Gov. Brown was actually open to most of the 99 “special pay items”. But he adamantly opposed the measures that contradicted the reform law Brown passed in 2012.

“Today Calpers got it wrong,” Brown said in a statement on Wednesday. “This vote undermines the pension reforms enacted just two years ago. I’ve asked my staff to determine what actions can be taken to protect the integrity of the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act.”