Partial Transcript of Joe Nation Interview:
Welcome to the Inside Source Interview Series, my name is David Kersten and I will be your host.
In this segment, I sit down with former Assemblymember Joe Nation at his Stanford University office to discuss his important work on the public employee pension issue and the training needs of California State Legislators and their staff.
Nation is currently a Professor of the Practice of Public Policy at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, at Stanford University. He has a Ph.D. in Policy Analysis from the RAND Graduate School, a Master’s of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, and a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Economics, German and French from the University of Colorado.
Nation served in the California State Assembly for six years beginning in 2000, until being termed out in 2006.
Nation says he values and sympathizes with public servants on the pension issue because he comes from a family of public servants, but he says the simple truth is that the current pension benefits are just too high.
Nation says pension reform will not come in the California Legislature without leadership from the unions and Democratic State lawmakers who have thus far not shown a willingness to take on the pension issue with the exception of Governor Jerry Brown (D).
In the second portion of the interview, Nation says that State Lawmakers and their staff would benefit from increased policy analysis training and training in key issue areas such as energy and health care policy, among others.
While in the Assembly, Nation was a leader on environmental, health care, and education issues where he authored more than 50 bills that were signed into law.
During his time in the Legislature, Nation rose to the powerful position of chair of the Rules Committee and served as Director of the Assembly Office of Planning and Research.
Since leaving the State Assembly, Nation returned to Stanford University where he has pioneered important work on the public employee pension issue and environmental issues. Nation also serves as the principal of Joe Nation Consulting where he has done work for major clients such as PG&E and RAND.
Nation is widely recognized in California as being the leading pioneer on the public employee pension issue. He was asked by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 to research the issue and has since public several pension studies that served to put the pension issue on the radar of both the public and State Legislature.
A growing consensus of public finance experts believe California State and local governments can no longer afford to offer public employee pension benefits at the level that they do.
For example, the Manhattan Institute, as described in detail in some accompanying Institute video podcasts, provides some startling new data on the pension issue. The Manhattan Institute study, released in April 2015, looked at 25 localities in California and found a consistent and undeniable trend of skyrocketing public pension costs that are crowding out spending on other important government programs and services.
Slide: For example, as illustrated by this slide, in the City of San Francisco pension costs increased by 537% from 2006 to 2014, compared to revenue increases which only increased by 72% over the same period.
For the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, unfunded pension liabilities have increased by nearly three times since 2006, jumping to $14.3 million in 2013, up from $4.9 million in 2006. And this trend continues in locality after locality, as well as at the state level. (Note: This slide does not represent the total unfunded liabilities for BART, just the UAAL that accrued in each fiscal year, 2006 and 2013)
Professor Nation’s research on the pension issue, as well as others such as the Manhattan Institute, has helped shed much needed light on the pension problem by providing thoughtful evidence and analysis that has laid the foundation for pension reform.
But as discussed in the interview, the real issue with public pensions is political in nature—very few of the state’s elected officials challenge the status quo and continue to take a business as usual approach to dealing with the public pension problem.
I admire Nation for his passion for responsible public policy and his courage and leadership on the public employee pension issue.
The interview will be divided into two segments: 1) Discussion of the pubic employee pension issue, and 2) Discussion of the training needs of California State Legislators and their staff.