Governor Schwarzenegger's summit highlighted the effects public pension's costs are having on the state budget. While funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and Parks Department have been sacrificed, cutting 40-87% over the last decade, taxpayer contributions to pensions skyrocketed more than 2000%.
"What does that do? It crowds out other programs, important programs, social programs that we all like and that are very badly needed," said Schwarzenegger.
Three prestigious universities came to same conclusion: state government agencies have incurred $500-billion in pension debt.
"This is a massive issue nationwide and it's going to spark a crisis that's going to be comparable in magnitude or larger than the banking crisis we just experienced," said Joshua Rauh with Northwest University.
Among other things, the governor wants to rollback pensions to 1999 levels, before benefits were increased without requiring a boost in employee contributions.
Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D) acknowledged that was wrong and now supports pension reform. "I don't come to this issue frankly with clean hands. I did a lot of this stuff when I served as a member of the legislature."
But democrats currently serving are in no hurry to change the pensions of public employee unions, who are contributing to their re-election campaigns this year, and many state workers feel the public retirement system is not as generous as the average person thinks.
"There's been nationwide pressure against public employee unions, especially on the issue of pensions. But if you actually look at the numbers, the average pensioner makes $2000 a month on a pension," said State worker Kevin Menager.
The governor leaves office in six months, so it's his last change to get pension reform through. He says he won't sign a state budget unless he gets the changes.