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The US Common Sense Team


USCS in the Press


California Healthline – Calif. School Districts Struggling To Cover Lifetime Health Benefits

As school districts look to stem costs, many likely will seek to scale back health care benefits, the Times reports. Adam Tatum, research director at California Common Sense, said, “You’re going to see more attempts to reduce benefits, maybe not for current employees but for new employees.” However, re-evaluating retiree health benefits could set up debates with teachers unions.

Health benefits are a promise school districts find hard to keep

California Common Sense, a nonpartisan research group founded at Stanford University, estimates that state government, cities including San Francisco and Los Angeles and the University of California system contribute to $157 billion in statewide retiree healthcare obligations. Only about $7 billion has been set aside by those surveyed by the group, leaving $150 billion in debt.

Reverse Robin Hoods

In the late 1990s, the university had surplus assets and decided to just stop making its annual contributions to shore up its pension fund. It instead relied on optimistic predictions about its investments’ rate of return. The returns fell short, and now the system is underfunded. “The UC also failed to set aside almost any assets to prefund its retiree healthcare plan, which has a funding ratio of just 0.3 percent,” the California Common Sense report concluded.

Point Of View: Pension Reform (Part III)

California government retiree pension and benefit programs are over $350 billion in the red. The practical effect of this red ink is that these retirement programs are short the billions of dollars in assets needed to generate enough income to pay for them. As a result, the California taxpayer supported general fund has to make up the difference. That income shortfall, according to think tank California Common Sense, is roughly calculated at $10 billion each year — and rising.

California needs better data to build trust with voters

Since the 2012 scandal state parks scandal, when the Department of Parks and Recreation was squirreling away $54 million while the governor was threatening to close 70 parks to balance the budget, the state has improved the transparency of its finances, according to Autumn Carter, executive director of California Commonsense. “But we can do so much better,” she said. “We’d like to see an initiative, driven by the Governor’s Office, for a performance metric across the state.”

Landslide Victories for Fiscal Responsibility

Failing to adequately fund retirement benefits, neglecting infrastructure, deferring payments and borrowing heavily during years of budget gaps has left California with what Democratic Governor Jerry Brown – who was reelected on Nov. 4 – has called a “wall of debt.” California Common Sense, a research group, estimates this wall totals $443 billion, equivalent to 22 percent of the state’s GDP. That’s an almost unthinkable burden passed on to the children and grandchildren of today’s taxpayers and one that doesn’t register as a deficit in the cash accounting system used in local-government budgeting.

Election 2014 in California: Where were the issues?

Californians may have just experienced the sleepiest election cycle in the state’s history. Only 30% of registered voters turned out; 40% of registered voters did not even know Governor Jerry Brown would be on the ballot for re-election. The contest between Governor Brown (D) and his challenger, Neel Kashkari (R), had relatively low visibility. Ahead of the election, polls indicated that water and the economy were paramount for voters, while the gubernatorial race registered quite low. Issues were not absent from the cycle altogether – they were just absent from what should have been the state’s central race.


California School-Superintendent Race Takes Center Stage

The amount of direct campaign contributions, donations to independent groups and advertisements is more than triple the amount spent in the last superintendent’s race, in 2010, according to Autumn Carter, executive director of California Common Sense, a nonpartisan think tank. The two candidates for superintendent,–incumbent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck, both Democrats, –are squaring off on hot-button issues in education, such as tenure laws, teacher evaluations and the role of testing in schools. Recent polls suggest voters are evenly split between the two men. “The fact that the superintendent race is an almost $30 million race,…that’s a little mind-boggling,” said Ms. Carter.

Same old UC plan: spend and hike tuition

That begs the question: How well has the university managed its current budget? “As of 2013, the UC’s pension and retiree health-care plans collectively had unfunded liabilities of nearly $27 billion,” according to a new analysis by Adam Tatum, from the reform-oriented California Common Sense. It’s ironic the university is planning to address these debts by requiring students to go more deeply into debt to pay for tuition, added Autumn Carter, the group’s executive director. Good point.>

California Welfare Overpayments: Fraud, Internal Errors, and Limited Investigation

Mountain View, CA (August 27, 2014). Today, California Common Sense released a brief report called “California Welfare Overpayments: Fraud, Internal Errors, and Limited Investigation.” The California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) provides temporary cash assistance, welfare-to-work, and other services to eligible low-income families with children. This analysis examines the program’s benefit overpayment trends to determine how frequently beneficiaries and the program’s administration cause errors, as well as how costly those errors are. While individual errors may seem insignificant, taken together, they prove costly to the system, taxpayers, and the thousands of additional cases they could have funded instead.

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