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California Public Employees' Retirement System
Agency overview
HeadquartersSacramento, California
38°34′30″N 121°30′18″W / 38.575°N 121.505°W / 38.575; -121.505Coordinates: 38°34′30″N 121°30′18″W / 38.575°N 121.505°W / 38.575; -121.505
Employees2,626 (April 2013)[1]
Agency executivesAnne Stausboll, CEO
Rob Feckner, President
Parent agencyCalifornia Government Operations Agency
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California Public Employees' Retirement System
Agency overview
HeadquartersSacramento, California
38°34′30″N 121°30′18″W / 38.575°N 121.505°W / 38.575; -121.505Coordinates: 38°34′30″N 121°30′18″W / 38.575°N 121.505°W / 38.575; -121.505
Employees2,626 (April 2013)[1]
Agency executivesAnne Stausboll, CEO
Rob Feckner, President
Parent agencyCalifornia Government Operations Agency

The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) is an agency in the California executive branch that "manages pension and health benefits for more than 1.6 million California public employees, retirees, and their families".[1][2] In fiscal year 2007-2008, $10.88 billion was paid in retirement benefits,[3] and in calendar year 2009 it is estimated that over $5.7 billion will be paid in health benefits.[4]

As of March 31, 2013, CalPERS managed the second largest public pension fund in the United States, second to the federal Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund, with $257.4 billion in assets[1] that represented a 1% decrease from the peak value of its assets of $260.6 billion in October 2007.[5] CalPERS is known for its shareholder activism; stocks placed on its "Focus List" may perform better than other stocks, which has given rise to the term "CalPERS effect".[6] Outside the U.S., CalPERS has been called "a recognized global leader in the investment industry",[7] and "one of America's most powerful shareholder bodies".[8]


Discussion about providing for the retirement of California state employees began in 1921, but only in 1930 did California voters approve an amendment to the State Constitution to allow pensions to be paid to state workers, and only in 1931 was state law passed to establish a state worker retirement plan.[9] In 1932, the "State Employees' Retirement System" (SERS) began operation.[9][10] The California State Employees Association, established in 1931, began a close relationship with SERS that continues to this day.[9]

In 1939, the state Legislature passed a bill that allowed local public agencies (such as cities, counties, and school districts) to participate in SERS.[9] Initially, SERS could invest only in bonds, but in 1953 a new state law allowed SERS to invest in real estate.[9][10] SERS then built a 670,000-square-foot (62,000 m2), 16-story building in Sacramento which opened in 1965; part of the building housed SERS employees, and part of the building was leased to other state agencies.[9]

The "first major new benefit for SERS members," health insurance, began in 1962 with the passage of a law that was later amended to become the "Public Employees' Medical and Hospital Care Act".[9] Because by 1967 SERS was contracting with 585 local public agencies for retirement benefits, its name was changed to the "Public Employees' Retirement System" (PERS).[9] With the passage of a ballot proposition and a state law in 1966-1967, PERS was allowed to invest 25% of its portfolio in stocks;[9] in 1984, Proposition 21 removed the 25% limitation.[2][10]

State Treasurer Jesse M. Unruh was a PERS Board member in the mid-1980s. He began PERS' emphasis on corporate governance; in addition, he was instrumental in creating the Council of Institutional Investors, an organization of pension funds and other institutions that opposed "greenmail and other corporate practices that benefited only management".[9]

In 1986, the headquarters building of PERS, now called "Lincoln Plaza North", was completed in Sacramento at a cost of $81 million.[11] The building, which has 492,900 square feet (45,790 m2), is known for its six-story-high atrium and landscaped terraces.[11]

In 1991, Governor Pete Wilson wished to use PERS funds to help cover a state budget deficit;[9] however, Proposition 162, also known as the "California Pension Protection Act of 1992," gave the PERS board "the sole and exclusive fiduciary responsibility over the assets of" PERS.[10][12]

To avoid confusion with public employees' retirement systems in other states, the organization's name was changed to "CalPERS" in 1992.[9] By 1996, the CalPERS portfolio was worth $100 billion, and the number of members exceeded 1 million.[9] In 2001-2002, CalPERS provided technical assistance for the Sarbanes-Oxley Act because it had sustained financial losses from the Enron and WorldCom bankruptcies.[9]

In November 2005, CalPERS expanded its headquarters with the 560,000-square-foot (52,000 m2) "Lincoln Plaza East & West" buildings which cost $265 million.[13][14] The architecture of the buildings, which received praise, includes an entry tower 90 feet (27 m) high in a shape reminiscent of a tree which is made of steel covered with glass.[14] The project was awarded a Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating.[15]


The legal authority for the activities of CalPERS can be found in the constitution, laws, and regulations of the state of California, including:


Board of Administration[edit]

CalPERS headquarters at Lincoln Plaza in Sacramento

CalPERS is overseen by a 13-member Board of Administration whose members are elected, appointed, or ex officio:[20]

Notable past Board members have included Caspar Weinberger (1967–1969), Jesse Unruh (1983–1987), Gray Davis (1986–1994), Matt Fong (1995–1998), Kathleen Connell (1995–2003), Phil Angelides (1999–2006), Willie Brown (2000–2005), and Steve Westly (2003–2006).[9]

As of 2014, the current Board members are Rob Feckner (President), Priya Sara Mathur (Vice President), Michael Bilbrey, John Chiang, Richard Costigan, George Diehr, Richard Gillihan, JJ Jelincic, Henry Jones, Ron Lind, Bill Lockyer, Bill Slaton, [21]


Between 1999 and 2001, several conflicts among Board members were notable:

In response to such conflicts, the Board took various measures (e.g., it adopted a "document of collegiality" in October 2001).[23]

Other controversies have affected the Board, such as:


The state employees perform under the direction of the chief executive officer (CEO) of CalPERS. The CEOs have been:[9] Earl W. Chapman (1932–1956); Edward K. Coombs (acting, 1956); William E. Payne (1956–1974); Carl J. Blechinger (1975–1983); Sidney C. McCausland (1984–1986); Kenneth G. Thomason (acting or interim, 1987); Dale M. Hanson (1987–1994);[31] Richard H. Koppes (interim, 1994); James E. Burton (1994–2002);[32] Robert D. Walton (interim, 2002); Fred R. Buenrostro, Jr. (2002–2008);[33][34] Kenneth W. Marzion (interim, 2008–2009);[35] and Anne Stausboll (2009–Present).

Besides the CEO, the executive officers of CalPERS are: Assistant Executive Officers for Administrative Services, Health Benefits, Information Technology Services, Member and Benefit Services, and Public Affairs; a General Counsel; a Chief Actuary; and a Chief Investment Officer.[36] Under the executive officers, state employees work in 19 major branches, divisions, and offices.[37] Approximately $373.9 million is budgeted in 2012-2013 for administrative functions in CalPERS, such as paying the salaries of 2,300 state employees.[1] [2]


Investment income gains and losses 1999-2009[edit]

CalPERS derives its income from investments, from member contributions, and from employer contributions.[2]

Investment Income has fluctuated from gains to losses in the last eleven years, 1999–2009, with four years of losses and seven years of gains. There was investment income gains of $17 billion in 1999, $16 billion in 2000 and five billion dollars in 2003. The stock market declines in 2001 lead to investment income losses of 12 billion in 2001 and 10 billion in 2002. Thus, the five-year period 1999 to 2003 period had a cumulative income of 16 billion dollars, or about three billion a year on an investment portfolio of over $200 billion.

The next four years were a period of investment income stability; a 24 billion investment income in 2004, 22 billion in 2005, 21 billion in 2006, and 41 billion in 2007. This four-year period had a cumulative investment income of 108 billion dollars, or $27 billion a year.

With the stock market decline in 2008, during the financial crisis of 2007-2010, there were large investment income losses. There was a 12 billion dollar investment income loss in 2008 and 55 billion in 2009.[2]

The 124 billion dollars of income in the nine-year period 1999-2007 has been reduced in half by the combined losses of 67 billion in 2008 and 2009. This totals to 57 billion dollars of investment income during this 11-year period, or about 5.1 billion a year on an investment portfolio of 261 billion in October 2007 and down to 186 billion in October 2008. This is a 2.5% return on investment over the 11-year period.

Income or loss from investments fluctuates from year to year; between 1998–99 and 2007–08, the highest income was $40.7 billion in 2006-07 and the greatest loss was $12.5 billion in 2007-08.[2] As of October 2008, CalPERS had a total of $186.7 billion in assets invested as follows: $104.9 billion (56.2%) in equities, $41.0 billion (21.9%) in fixed income, $20.9 billion (11.2%) in real estate, $16.2 billion (8.7%) in cash equivalents, and $3.7 billion (2.0%) in inflation linked assets.[38]

Shareholder activism emphasized under Dale Hanson's leadership[edit]

Beginning in the 1980s,[39] and especially in the early 1990s under the pioneering leadership of CEO Dale Hanson,[40] CalPERS has used its influence as one of the largest shareholders in the world to change the way certain things are done in business. It is especially known for its shareholder activism concerning corporate governance, in which it has been described as the most influential pension fund[39] and as "a leader among activist institutions".[41]

Among other examples of its shareholder activism, CalPERS has:

CalPERS has received some criticism for its shareholder activism:

The Focus List and the "CalPERS effect"[edit]

Since 1987, CalPERS has placed certain companies on a "Focus List" each year.[58] The criteria for the Focus List have changed over time, but it currently includes companies for which CalPERS has "concerns about stock and financial underperformance, and corporate governance practices".[59] CalPERS works with these companies to improve their corporate governance and thereby improve their financial performance.[59] In 2008, the Focus List companies were The Cheesecake Factory; Hilb, Rogal & Hobbs Co.; Invacare; La-Z-Boy; and Standard Pacific Homes.[60]

In 1994, Nesbitt published a study that found that companies on the Focus List trailed the S&P 500 prior to being put on the list, but outperformed the S&P 500 after being put on the list, and named this phenomenon the "CalPERS effect".[61] The term has been used in the newsmedia.[6][62] Whether a "CalPERS effect" actually exists has been studied in a number of subsequent papers, including but not limited to:

Notable investments[edit]

Studies commissioned by CalPERS on its economic impacts[edit]

CalPERS commissioned three studies that were released in 2007-2008 about the economic impacts of the following:[85]

CalPERS touted the studies as demonstrating the value of the agency with news releases such as "CalPERS and CalSTRS Pensions Power Up State and Local Economies".[89] The studies and their use by CalPERS were criticized as follows:

Employee recognition program[edit]

Among other "offerings to ensure [its] workers are happy as well as healthy," CalPERS has an onsite Montessori method child care facility,[91] conducts employee surveys every two years, offers a training and wellness program, and administers a nationally known employee recognition program.[9] The employee recognition program has several components:

Two CalPERS employees received 2000 National Association for Employee Recognition (NAER) Recognition Champion Awards for the employee recognition program.[97] In addition, CalPERS itself won a 2002 Best Practices award from NAER.[92][93] The employee recognition program was reported to contribute to high employee satisfaction and a low employee turnover rate at CalPERS.[93][96]


Member contributions[edit]

Workers who are members of CalPERS contribute 5%-10% of their salaries for retirement benefits.[5]

Employer contributions[edit]

On average, schools and other public agencies contribute 12.7% of payroll for their employees' retirement benefits;[5] however, the rates can increase if CalPERS' investments perform unfavorably and decrease if CalPERS' investments perform favorably. According to CalPERS, "The School Pool contribution rate is affected by the investment return of a given fiscal year in the second year that follows"[98] and "Local public agency contribution rates are affected by the investment return of a given fiscal year in the third fiscal year that follows".[99] CalPERS' earnings and losses are averaged over 15 years to prevent extreme changes in employers' contribution rates.[100] Nevertheless, in 2008 "CalPERS warned that it might ask for more money from the state starting in July 2010 and from local-government employers starting in July 2011" if CalPERS' investments are performing poorly as of June 30, 2009.[5]

After the financial crisis of 2008 many cities in California came under financial stress due to a combination of factors. This led to three high-profile municipal bankruptcy filings by Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernadino that received nation-wide attention. During the proceedings some creditors accused CalPERS' increased post-crisis employer payments and future unfunded liabilities as a cause of insolvency and sought to have CalPERS employer contributions reduced. This was vigorously opposed by CalPERS. According to 2011 state figures the CalPERS system is 78% funded with unfunded future liabilities of $133 Billion. Non-government estimates show a larger shortfall.[101]


CalPERS provides benefits to all state government employees and, by contract, to local agency and school employees. CalPERS administers the following categories of benefits to members:[102]

Retirement benefits under defined benefit plans[edit]

As of June 30, 2008, CalPERS paid monthly allowances to 476,252 retirees, survivors, and beneficiaries, 86% of whom lived in California.[3] In the year ending June 30, 2008, $10.88 billion in benefits were paid.[3] The retirement benefits "are calculated using a member's years of service credit, age at retirement, and final compensation (average salary for a defined period of employment)," and the retirement formulas "are determined by the member's employer (State, school, or local public agency); occupation (miscellaneous (general office and others), safety, industrial, or peace officer/firefighter); and the specific provisions in the contract between CalPERS and the employer".[103]

In addition, CalPERS administers the Legislators' Retirement System, Judges' Retirement System, and Judges' Retirement System II.[3]

Besides CalPERS, California has a number of other public retirement systems, including:

CalPERS has reciprocity agreements with many of these California public retirement systems that allow retirees with service credit and contributions in two systems to receive payments from both systems.[108]

Some people prefer defined contribution plans to CalPERS' defined benefit plan. For example:

Among other arguments, CalPERS claims that defined contribution plans cost more to manage than defined benefit plans and fail to provide adequate funds to retirees.[113]

Deferred compensation and other supplemental income plans[edit]

CalPERS is responsible for a deferred compensation retirement plan (457 plan) and two other plans to supplement income after retirement or permanent separation from State employment:[3]

Disability retirement and industrial disability retirement[edit]

CalPERS offers two types of retirement benefits if a worker is disabled. In "industrial disability retirement," the "disability is due to a job-related injury or illness"; in contrast, "disability retirement" implies that the disability was not necessarily caused by employment.[114] The specific benefits vary by employer, by the contract between CalPERS and the employer, and by the employee's occupation.[114]

Two major controversies have affected CalPERS' disability retirement and industrial disability retirement program over the years. First, in the mid-1990s and again in the mid-2000s there were concerns about inappropriate industrial disability retirement for public safety personnel, including:[115][116]

Second, "a 1980 state law that tied public safety officers' disability benefits to the age at which they were hired" caused an age discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1992 which eventually led to a 1995 class action lawsuit against CalPERS and other state and local agencies.[115][118][119] In January 2003, CalPERS settled the suit by agreeing to pay $50 million in retroactive benefits and $200 million in future benefits to 1,700 officers; the settlement "was by far the largest in the EEOC's history".[118] Furthermore, CalPERS agreed to not use an age-based formula in the future, which "basically nullifie[d]" the 1980 state law.[119]

Death benefits[edit]

If a CalPERS member dies before retirement, CalPERS may provide death benefits to certain beneficiaries.[120] The benefits can include one-time payments and monthly payments, but "depend on the member's age, years of service, job classification, employer's contract with CalPERS, eligible beneficiary, date of separation from employment, and whether or not they were eligible to retire at the time of death".[121]

Health benefits[edit]

In 1961, the Meyer-Geddes Hospital and Medical Health Care Act was passed, which led to SERS' offering health insurance for state employees beginning in 1962.[9] After the Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) Act of 1973, PERS began to deal with HMOs "to create more unified and standardized health care benefit rates".[9] In 1978, the Meyer-Geddes Act was renamed the "Public Employees' Medical and Hospital Care Act".[9]

By the early 1990s, CalPERS received national attention for its attempt at implementing "managed competition," which is the theory that health care costs "can be controlled by forcing health providers to compete with one another under government supervision".[122] As of 1994-1995, CalPERS contracted with 24 health plans for its "over 900,000" members and was able to reduce health insurance premiums by 1% compared with 1993-1994.[123] At the time CalPERS was "called a model for the so-called health alliances" proposed in the 1993 Clinton health care plan.[123]

Rates continued to decline by 5.3% in 1996 and 1.4% in 1997, but rose by 2.7% in 1998 and 5.1% in 1999.[124] CalPERS attracted national attention again in the mid-2000s, this time for health maintenance organization rate increases of 25% in 2004 and 18% in 2005.[124][125][126] Meanwhile, the number of participating plans dropped to seven as of 2003,[125] and "more than two dozen cities, counties and school districts" (representing 4% of membership) left CalPERS as of 2004 because of high medical insurance rates.[127]

A 2006 study by the Government Accountability Office determined that from 1997 through 2002 the average annual growth in CalPERS premiums (6.5%) was lower than that of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP, 8.5%) and of other surveyed employer-sponsored health benefit programs (7.1%); however, between 2003 and 2006-7, the average annual growth rate in CalPERS premiums (14.2%) was higher than that of FEHBP (7.3%) and of other surveyed employer-sponsored health benefit programs (10.5%).[128] As of 2008, CalPERS eliminated copayments for preventive care visits, raised copayments for other types of office visits, and took other measures in an attempt to reduce costs.[129]

CalPERS will provide over $5.7 billion in health benefits "nearly 1.3 million active and retired state and local government public employees and their family members" as of 2009.[4] Therefore, it was the nation’s second largest public purchaser of health benefits,[4] behind the FEHBP which covered "about 8 million federal employees, retirees, and their dependents".[128] Of the enrollees, 61% are state employees and 39% are local government and school employees; 74% are working and 26% are retired.[4]

Enrollees can join three types of plans:[4][130]

In 2010, Blue Shield of California, Dignity Health, and Hill Physicians Medical Group formed an Accountable Care Organization that covers 41,000 CalPERS.[131]

Long-term care benefits[edit]

California's "Public Employees' Long-Term Care Act," as passed in 1990 and amended in 1996, led to CalPERS' administering a Long-Term Care Program for "all California public employees, retirees, their spouses, parents, parents-in-law, and adult siblings".[9][132] Described as the "largest self-funded program of its kind",[132] the program provides "nursing home care, residential assisted living, home health care, homemaker services and adult day care".[133]

The program is funded by contributions and by proceeds from investments.[133][134] During an economic downturn in 2002, premiums for the program rose an average of 9% to compensate for investment losses of $99 million.[133] Another premium increase of an average of 33.6% occurred in 2007 due to "a projected $600 million shortfall in the program over the next 50 to 60 years".[134] The causes of the deficit predicted as of 2007 were less investment income than expected, a higher volume of claims than expected, and a lower dropout rate than expected.[134] By 2008, the program had almost 168,000 members who paid annual premiums of more than $310 million and who collectively received $76 million in benefits annually.[4]

Member Home Loan Program[edit]

As of December 15, 2010, the CalPERS Board of Administration approved the suspension of the CalPERS Member Home Loan Program. CalPERS is no longer accepting new applications.[135]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]