Gov. Jerry Brown has declared that this year he will figure out a solution to the state's ballooning teacher pension liability. It's about time. But his proposed 2014-15 budget puts nothing toward paying down the debt. That's irresponsible.
The California State Teachers' Retirement System, the nation's second largest public employee pension plan, has an $80 billion shortfall. For perspective, that's more than the promised price for the bullet train system. It's roughly triple the administration's advertised tab for two massive water tunnels through the Delta.
Unlike shortfalls at other public employee pension systems, no one has been doing anything to address the CalSTRS debt. The teacher pension system lacks legal authority to raise contribution rates when actuarial calculations indicate more money is needed.
Only the Legislature and governor can do that. But for years they have simply ignored CalSTRS' pleas. As anyone with a credit card knows, if you don't make payments the debt mounts.
Installment payments to retire the debt over the next 30 years would require allocating an additional $4.5 billion a year for CalSTRS. That's a heavy lift, but it's time to start.
Instead, while ratcheting up the state budget 8 percent, while increasing allocations for education by a similar proportion, the governor's proposed spending plan merely promises to work on the CalSTRS problem, but commits no money to help solve it.
Brown indicates that this year his administration will meet with the Legislature, school districts, teachers and CalSTRS to hammer out a solution. But it's clear that the state will eventually pay at least some of the tab, directly or indirectly. That's why, with state revenues improving, the governor should set aside money now.
There are three sources for retiring the pension debt: the state, school districts and teachers. When compared to other California public employees, teachers already pay most of their fair share for pensions.
So the big issue is how most of the debt burden will be divided between the state and schools districts. Because the state funds school districts, the money will eventually come out of state coffers.
We already know that the voter-approved education funding formula is expected to significantly drive up state expenditures for schools as the economy improves. The governor must ensure that most of the new pension payments come from that increase rather than creating another school funding commitment that will squeeze the state budget the next time the economy turns south.
The negotiations will be tricky, but, for the sake of the teachers and taxpayers, it's long past time to start.