CalPERS Liability Exploding for So Pas

Letter to the Editor

South Pasadena taxpayers can learn a great deal about our local government budget crisis by going to the CalPERS website and reading the latest available actuarial report for the city’s public safety pensions. While CalPERS is two years behind in its reporting, and the current figures may be far worse, the numbers you’ll see there are beyond alarming. South Pasadena’s unfunded accrued liability payments go from $592,637 for fiscal year 17-18 to a projected $2,539,000 for fiscal year 24-25 – they more than quadruple in less than a decade. That’s a path to insolvency. (If you can’t find that report, send me an email message at, and I’ll send you a copy.)

Meanwhile, the six-figure public pension club is exploding: “The CalPERS system issued 30,969 pensions checks in 2018 that were worth $100,000 or more on an annualized basis—up from about 14,600 six-figure payouts in 2012.” 

Note that local governments all over California are experiencing a financial crisis in the context of the strongest economy we’ve seen in 50 years. With record-low unemployment, growing payrolls, soaring stock markets, and a robust level of taxable economic activity, we’re broke. Why?

The reality is that a sales tax increase on top of the city’s existing library parcel tax and utility user’s tax will only allow the city to stay ahead of the trendlines for a little while. Even if the sales tax initiative passes, we’ll be back to have another conversation about new taxes soon. Our three special city taxes will lead to a fourth. We’ve lost control of our pension costs. Everything else is just noise.

– Chris Bray