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One of the prevailing themes in this year’s budget discussions has become known essentially as “the pension number.” Here’s the synopsis: City administrators are paying into the pension fund what they’ve been asked to pay by the pension board: $162 million.

That satisfies the city’s legal obligations, and is a trustworthy number, says Mayor Jerry Sanders and others. However, pension hawks disagree, citing the mounds of pension studies and investigations that have shown that a number of accounting tricks and other factors artificially deflate the number. Instead, they say, the city needs to pay upwards of $200 million to stop the pension deficit from growing. The $162 million number, they say, is minimized by the terms of a lawsuit and continues to underfund the pension system.

If all of this sounds familiar, it is. Essentially, the same discussion took place last year. Folks like former Mayor Dick Murphy, Council President Scott Peters and former City Manager Lamont Ewell backed the smaller pension number, while pension hawks suggested the bigger number. This year, it’s Sanders leading the charge defending the number.

The new wrinkle: City Attorney Mike Aguirre this year says he knows the city can’t pay the big bill, but that it should be getting the higher number from the pension board in order to report its liabilities properly to the investigating Securities and Exchange Commission and would-be investors.

The council is slated to finalize the budget today. Check back with us for more details later.

ANDREW DONOHUE

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