Feb 26

Past Event

Public Pension Reform: Questions of Politics and Policy

Event Materials



  • Ballooning Pension Obligations Crowd Out Other Services

    Matthew Chingos: The public employee pension system problem has worsened in several places, including Detroit, Puerto Rico, and Milwaukee. In the absence of new revenue sources, ballooning pension obligations are likely to crowd out other vital services, such as education.

    Matthew M. Chingos

  • Public Pensions Are at a Crossroads

    Patten Priestley Mahler, University of Virginia: It's ultimately in the best interest of both taxpayers and the public sector workforce to make changes to underfunded pension systems before they go broke. The seemingly competing interests of taxpayers and workers can be met simultaneously with an innovative hybrid type plan.

  • Pension Systems in Many States Are Unsustainable

    Patrick McGuinn, Drew University: A serious conversation about the nature of the pension challenge in American states is long overdue. Different views have emerged in state-level deliberations about reform.

  • Localities Feel First Pinch in Pension Shortfalls

    Grover "Russ" Whitehurst: While most of the actions that can actually improve prospects for public pensions occur at the state level, the pinch occurs first at the local level. Localities have a choice to not reform pension plans but then lay off police, close parks, or have fewer teachers.

    Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst

  • Mayor Chuck Reed: Pension Reform Lessons from San Jose

    Hon. Chuck Reed, Mayor, San Jose: Two important objectives have come out of our experience in San Jose. The first is that we want to make sure that our retirees and our employees get paid what they've earned. The second is that the sooner you start on reform, the better off you are.

Full Event


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State and local pension systems are at a crossroads, with pension reform efforts being spurred by ballooning cost projections and an estimated $2.7 trillion nationwide funding gap. Failing pension systems broadly impact the American citizenry – from taxpayers who want to keep costs down yet still receive high-quality public services, to public-sector teachers, police officers and firefighters who want to preserve their retirement security. Political factors have long impeded legislative pension reform, but in recent years a number of states have succeeded in enacting significant reforms to their systems.


On February 26, the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings released two papers (available here) that examine pension reform efforts across the nation and provide actionable policy solutions aimed at those states still struggling with underfunded pension systems. A presentation of the papers’ findings by authors Patrick McGuinn and Patten Priestley Mahler was followed by a keynote presentation by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, and a panel discussion with leaders who have helped to develop noteworthy reforms to public pension systems at the state and local level.

Read highlights of the conversation on Brookings Now blog.

Join the conversation on Twitter at #pensionreform.

Event Agenda

  • Introduction

  • Presentation of Findings

    • Patrick McGuinn

      Associate Professor of Political Science

      Drew University

    • Patten Priestley Mahler

      Economics Ph.D. Candidate

      University of Virginia

  • Keynote Address

    • The Honorable Chuck Reed


      The city of San Jose, CA

  • Panel Discussion

    • Moderator

      Portrait: Russ Whitehurst

      Grover "Russ" Whitehurst

      Senior Fellow, Governance Studies

      The Herman and George R. Brown Chair

    • Mark Dingley

      Deputy Treasurer

      Rhode Island Office of the General Treasurer

    • The Honorable Chuck Reed


      The city of San Jose, CA

    • Patrick McGuinn

      Associate Professor of Political Science

      Drew University

    • Patten Priestley Mahler

      Economics Ph.D. Candidate

      University of Virginia


February 26, 2014

10:00 AM - 11:30 AM EST

Brookings Institution

Falk Auditorium

1775 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.


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