Gauging the health of public pension funds has become something of a contact sport, with rating agencies, nonprofit budget reform groups and others weighing in with wildly differing calculations.

Actuaries, budget watchdogs, unions and pension fund managers have for years debated the correct method for calculating a pension fund's future liabilities. While actuaries say they use standards set by the Government Accounting Standards Board, unions see recent changes by the GASB that pump up those obligations as a way to stoke public sympathy for cutting benefits.

The debate is raging from coast to coast, with recent hot spots, Rhode Island, Detroit and California, in the news.

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