California pension database goes public

After a year of gathering data from public entities, a California group launched this week the largest assemblage of California pension data ever constructed.

The database currently contains data from 37 California public pension funds, including CalPERS, the second largest public pension fund in the country. Available data includes retirees’ names, their annual pension payments, years of service, the year of their retirement and their last employer.

The database, which can be found at Transparent California, was built in response to a 2011 state court ruling that made public pension information under the California Public Records Act.

The California State Controller’s Office had previously launched a database of public pension information, but the data was not as expansive as some pension watchdog groups had hoped.

Ed Ring of the California Public Policy Center highlights the need for the new database:

What level of public employee pay and benefits are affordable and appropriate is a difficult but necessary discussion. And missing too often from this discussion is good data on just how much, on average, public employees are currently making. In California, the State controller has made available a database of public employee compensation, organized by agency, that includes every city, county and state worker.

One of the biggest weaknesses inherent in the State controller’s “Government Compensation in California” database is that the summary information provides averages that take into account positions that were part-time, or only occupied by the employee for part of the fiscal year.

Last year, CalPERS considered the idea of posting a database of its pension data on its own website. But the idea has been delayed after members of the CalPERS system protested the public database. The system’s staff is now considering cancelling the project altogether.