While the race for the next California governor is a lifetime away in political years, already in the media there have been articles about possible contenders and issues they might face. Articles have appeared in the Los Angeles TimesAssociated Press and even right here at Fox and Hounds.

The public pension issue could rise in the voters’ conscience because of recent information released by Controller Betty Yee. Ironically, that information could benefit Yee’s opponent in the last controller’s race, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, if she runs for governor.

As reported here yesterday, as required under new accounting rules, the State Controller revealed an increased state debt. The $175 billion debt has been dramatically enlarged when unfunded pension liabilities are considered. Next year, the cost of unfunded health care for public employees will be added to the debt amount.

Whether voters think the pension issue is hard to understand or is an arcane numbers game is yet to be determined. But considering the number of costly city bankruptcies in the state, in part due to pension obligations, and successful votes in San Jose and San Diego attempting to find a solution for the local budget problems through pension reform, the issue could be viable.

Fresno has a good story to tell on pensions.

As reported on this site by Robert Fellner of Transparent California, Fresno is running a surplus on its pension funding obligation due to fair deals with the city workers.

Fresno has not avoided economic woes and high unemployment. However, whether the mayor’s office had much to do with this happy experience dealing with pensions is beyond the point. In politics, if the economic situation is good, hug it all the tighter and claim credit. Swearengin could argue that the management that produced this positive result in Fresno could be applied to the rest of the state.

Dealing with deficits in pensions and health costs leads often to the argument that other budget services must be squeezed or taxes raised to cover pension and health care obligations.

Obviously, the gubernatorial election will be contested on many issues. But the growing obligation to cover unfunded pension and health care liabilities very well could be a big issue by 2018. Ashley Swearengin could position herself well on that crucial issue if she chooses to run for governor.