California Republican touts legislation banning public pension bailouts

The country’s public pension system is grossly underfunded and needs an overhaul, Rep. Devin Nunes said this week.

The California Republican is promoting legislation designed to gauge the extent of the problem, while also establishing a ban on federal bailouts of public pension programs.

“Part of the problem that we have today … is we don’t know what the truly unfunded liabilities are,” Nunes told Fox News on Friday. “We need to know exactly what the number is. We can’t make decisions at any level of government if we don’t know what the true undisclosed benefit is or liability is for these benefits.” 

Nunes’ comments came on the same day that the Pittsburgh City Council passed an emergency funding bill designed to prevent the state of Pennsylvania from taking over the city’s underfunded pension system.  

That episode, Nunes said, “proves a point that everyone in America needs to know what is it exactly that we owe our public employees.”

Nationwide, the country’s pension programs for public employees had roughly $1.9 trillion set aside in 2008 to pay promised retirement benefits, according to Nunes, citing unnamed independent studies. Yet those same programs have liabilities totaling $5.2 trillion — a gap of more than $3.2 trillion.

Introduced earlier this month, Nunes’ Public Pension Transparency Act would force state and local pension programs to report their liabilities to the federal government using a uniform accounting standard. It would also create a federal ban on any future public pension bailouts by Washington. 

The bill has picked up the support of several leading Republicans, including Reps. Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Darrell Issa (Calif.). In a statement issued earlier this month, Ryan, who will head the House Budget Committee in the next Congress, said the proposal “will make government more accountable to taxpayers by shining a light on the financial soundness and unfunded obligations associated with these plans.”

Nunes said the strongest supporters of the bill should be the pension beneficiaries, who stand to lose the most if the funds dry up.

“The people that should be demanding this the most are the public employees themselves,” Nunes said. “What they have been promised they may not receive.”

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