California Bill Would Force CalPERS, CalSTRS To Divest From Coal

smoke stack

California Senate President Kevin de Leon has introduced a bill that would force the state’s pension funds to exit all coal investments.

Additionally, CalSTRS and CalPERS would be prohibited from making new coal investments until 18 months after the bill becomes law.

De Leon hinted in November that he would introduce such a bill, and the pension funds had already responded negatively to the proposal.

More from the Guardian:

The California senate leader, Kevin de Leon, said he was introducing a bill on Tuesday calling on the two state funds – CalPERS, the public employees’ pension fund, and CalSTRS, the teachers’ pension funds, drop all coal holdings.

The bill is part of a larger package of climate measures – endorsed by Governor Jerry Brown – aimed at gearing up California’s efforts to fight climate change.

The former US vice-president and climate champion Al Gore spoke to the CalSTRS board in Sacramento last Friday. Gore has long argued that fossil fuels are a risky proposition as a long-term investment.

“Our state’s largest pension funds also need to keep their eyes on the future,” De Leon, a Democrat, said in an email. “With coal power in retreat, and the value of coal dropping, we should be moving our massive state portfolios to lower carbon investments and focus on the growing clean-energy economy.”

The two state funds are the biggest targets so far of a divestment movement that has moved from college campuses towards mainstream financial conversation.


De Leon’s proposal calls on managers of both state funds to withdraw from all coal companies, and make no new investments in coal within 18 months after the bill becomes law.

It further calls on the two funds to explore the feasibility of expanding its divestment, by divesting entirely from fossil fuels – including natural gas – and report back to the state legislature by 2017.

CalSTRS and CalPERS have a combined $299 million invested in coal assets, according to de Leon’s office.


Photo by  Paul Falardeau via Flickr CC License

Judges Sue California Over “Diminished” Pension Benefits


Six judges are suing California over “diminished” pension benefits brought on by the Public Employees Pension Reform Act, a law passed by the state in 2013.

The judges say their benefits shouldn’t be affected the law, because they were appointed a full year before the law was passed.

From the Appeal-Democrat:

Yuba County Judge Benjamin Wirtschafter and five other judges have sued the state, alleging they’re getting a raw deal on their pensions.

The judges allege the Public Employees Pension Reform Act, which became law in 2013, has increased their salary withholdings, allowed reductions in their pay in violation of the state constitution and “diminished the pension benefits they are entitled to earn,” according to the suit, filed last week in San Francisco Superior Court.

The judges were elected in 2012, so they should not be covered by the pension changes approved in the 2013 law, the suit said.


In 2012, Judges Retirement System II withheld a flat 8 percent of judges’ salaries.

Now, according to the suit, the six judges are subject to an additional 7.25 percent withholding, resulting in “a fluctuating and increasing — as opposed to guaranteed — rate of contribution toward their pension benefits.”

In addition, their “pension annuity has been diminished by application of a three-year average salary annuity formula,” the suit said.

The suit alleged judges become members of their pension system when they are elected or appointed, and “final benefits are computed with respect to the paid service performed by the time of their retirement.”

According to the suit, the 30 judges who were appointed in 2012 are covered by the pension system’s rules in place before the 2013 changes.

“Many such judges are employed in the same courthouses as (the six judges who sued),” the suit said. “(The state has) permitted such appointed judges to participate in (the pension system) under the terms in effect prior to (the Public Employees Pension Reform Act) effective date, but have denied such rights to elected judges.”

Over the summer, California lawmakers passed an amendment to the Pension Reform Act to clarify that the law didn’t apply to judges elected prior to 2013. But Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed that change.


Photo by Joe Gratz via Flickr CC License

Improving CalSTRS Funding Comes at Cost for School Districts

The CalSTRS Building
The CalSTRS Building

California lawmakers acted earlier this year to improve the funding status of CalSTRS.

That means higher payments from school districts – and recent budget forecasts are forcing schools to examine how these payments will strain their budgets.

From the San Diego Union Tribune:

A state-mandated sched-ule for replenishing California’s cash-strapped teachers’ retirement fund means school districts will see their pension contributions triple by 2021 and remain high for decades, according to budget forecasts released this month by several local districts.

Administrators say they’re at a loss for how they’ll come up with the cash, which for some districts could be tens of millions per year. The forecasts come just six months after a legislative deal was struck by Sacramento lawmakers to recover billions of dollars for the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or CalSTRS.


Administrators said that in the coming fiscal year, they may be faced with tough decisions to cut instructional programs, cut professional development or delay technology infrastructure improvements at the expense of paying their share of unfunded pension liabilities — totaling $74 billion statewide.

Officials in districts throughout California are talking about forming a coalition to explore ways to fix the teacher retirement system without cutting into their own school programs.

As the pension contributions grow, “the things you want and need for educational purposes will take a second seat to funding this retirement system, or paying for utility bills,” said Gary Hamels, assistant superintendent in charge of business services with San Marcos Unified School District.

“It’s going to hit the fan because you’ll have to make a decision — I have to pay this so you can’t buy that,” Hamels said. “We’ll have a situation where there’s demand for some academic improvement but this is where the money is going first.”

The business model to get CalSTRS on solid footing is based on economic assumptions that will force each of the area school districts to cough up tens of millions of additional dollars for decades to come, said Lora Duzyk, assistant superintendent in charge of business services for San Diego County’s Office of Education. Teachers also will see their CalSTRS contributions rise, though not as fast as school districts.

“I think you will hear moaning and gnashing of teeth from all kinds of people,” Duzyk said. “The money to pay for this are new costs that come right off the top of anything you get (from the state).”

Details on the repayment schedule are outlined in a school funding law passed in June by California’s legislature, and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat who marched into office in 2011 vowing to pull the state out of its budget crisis.

CalSTRS was 66.9 percent funded as of June 30, 2013.


Photo by Stephen Curtin