Judge Christopher M. Klein’s decision to accept the City of Stockton’s petition for bankruptcy on April 1, 2013 set the stage for a battle over whether public workers’ pensions can be reduced through municipal reorganization.
Stockton’s public revenues tumbled dramatically when the recession hit, leaving Stockton unable to meet its day-to-day obligations. Stockton slashed its police and fire departments, eliminated many city services, cut public employee benefits and suspended payments on municipal bonds it had used to finance various projects and close projected budget gaps. Stockton continues to pay its obligations to California Public Employees’ Retirement System (“CalPERS”) for its public workers’ pensions. Pension obligations are particularly high because during the years prior to the recession, city workers could “spike” their pensions—by augmenting their final year of compensation with unlimited accrued vacation and sick leave—in order to receive pension payments that grossly exceeded their annual salaries.