GSI REPORT: TOWARD A FISCALLY SUSTAINABLE NEW JERSEY: ANALYSIS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Link: https://www.gardenstateinitiative.org/updates/sustainability

Full report: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5956385fe4fcb5606a4d46ac/t/613f51e3dae757528286a93a/1631539687957/GS-1438_Fiscally_Sustainable_Final_01.pdf

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NJ’s revenue is being produced by higher rates on a smaller tax base: New Jersey needs to ensure that the outmigration of high-income residents does not continue. Between 2008 and 2017, New Jersey experienced growth in the number of tax filers of 4.2%; however, growth in those making $500,000 or more annually was only 2.5% during the same time.

NJ’s public spending is growing faster than inflation, our population or job creation:  Our state will continue to see specific needs increase, especially in public health, health insurance, and public safety. New Jersey already taxes residents and businesses more than most other states. The problem is not too little revenue; rather, it is that the state’s spending is growing at a faster pace than inflation and the state’s population

The cost of NJ’s public workforce retirement and healthcare is the key driver of escalating spending and taxes: What New Jersey owes employees and retirees is growing significantly faster than the underlying economy that must support this liability. This is not sustainable. Pension liabilities are growing faster than assets

Author(s): Thad Calabrese, Thomas Healey

Publication Date: 22 Sept 2021

Publication Site: Garden State Initiative

Report finds Illinois holds 30% of pension obligation bond debt in nation

Link: https://www.thecentersquare.com/illinois/report-finds-illinois-holds-30-of-pension-obligation-bond-debt-in-nation/article_0ab6d148-1716-11ec-b36b-1b03ea725eeb.html#new_tab

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A new report shows Illinois holds 30% of the nation’s pension obligation bond debt.

A pension obligation bond is a form of debt that some states use to make payments to state-run pension funds. A pension obligation bond gets paid out by a third party and the state then pays back that loan with interest. Financial experts often advise against the use of pension obligation bonds, said Adam Schuster of the Illinois Policy Institute.

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The interest on the pension obligation bonds continues to climb and is leaving Illinois in a worse spot than it was previously in. The state has borrowed a total of $17.2 billion since 2003, but repayment cost is now $31 billion. Pension obligation bonds can save taxpayers money if the interest rates on the bonds is lower than the rate of return on the pension investments. If the rate of return drops below the interest rate on the bonds, then taxpayers are on the hook for the difference. This is a strategy that Schuster said is the same as gambling with the state’s money.

Author(s): Andrew Hensel

Publication Date: 16 Sept 2021

Publication Site: The Center Square

Audit finds California regularly sends pension checks to dead people

Link: https://www.thepress.net/news/state/audit-finds-california-regularly-sends-pension-checks-to-dead-people/article_df529bf9-e765-504f-bcd3-f40a217c1f98.html

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An audit of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, America’s largest public pension fund, found regular payments to pensioners well after they died, so much so it’s challenging to get the money back. 

Around 1,800 CalPERS pensioners die every month, according to a June memorandum from the fund’s Office of Audit Services that recently become public. CalPERS had more than $41 million in wrongful pension payments outstanding as of July 31, 2020, the audit said. It estimated CalPERS made those payments to about 22,000 dead pensioners.

The CalPERS Death and Survivor Benefits Division (DSBD) is responsible for verifying a pensioner has passed away and stopping payment. The audit found this process is done by a part-time employee that’s not given regular supervisory oversight.

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Of the sample of 30 cases audited, the report found DSBD learned pensioners had died an average of 47 months after the date of their deaths, resulting in $2.34 million in wrongful payments that had yet to be recovered. 

Author(s): Cole Lauterbach, The Center Square

Publication Date: 20 Sept 2021

Publication Site: The Press

OVER 100% OF DANVILLE MUNICIPAL PROPERTY TAXES CONSUMED BY PENSIONS

Link: https://www.illinoispolicy.org/over-100-of-danville-municipal-property-taxes-consumed-by-pensions/

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The average Danville household owns nearly $40,000 in state and local pension debt.

Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation pension debt has become a well-known problem. Over $144 billion in pension debt for the five statewide retirement systems breaks down to nearly $30,000 in debt for each household, which must be paid with further tax hikes or further cuts to core government services.

Less well known is the nearly $75 billion of pension debt held by local governments in Illinois, which is the primary reason for Illinois’ second-highest in the nation property taxes. Combined with the state’s pension debt, politicians who mismanaged the pension system dug a $219 billion hole.

In Danville, the average household owns nearly $40,000 in state and local pension debt, with over $10,000 of that debt stemming from local systems for police, firefighters and municipal workers. To pay off that pension debt, a Danville household would have to give up 110% of an entire year’s  $36,172 median annual income.

Author(s): Adam Schuster, Perry Zhao

Publication Date: 20 Sept 2021

Publication Site: Illinois Policy Institute

California Pensions Improve Slightly, Still Deep in the Red

Link: https://www.theepochtimes.com/california-pensions-improve-slightly-still-deep-in-the-red_4003251.html

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The 80 percent mark long has been considered the minimum threshold for a pension fund. However, that’s actually still too low. An Issue Brief by the American Academy of Actuaries called it, “The 80% Pension Funding Standard Myth” (pdf).

It said, “An 80 percent funded ratio often has been cited in recent years as a basis for whether a pension plan is financially or ‘actuarially’ sound. Left unchallenged, this misinformation can gain undue credibility with the observer, who may accept and in turn rely on it as fact, thereby establishing a mythic standard. … Pension plans should have a strategy in place to attain or maintain a funded status of 100 percent or greater over a reasonable period of time.”

Author(s): John Seiler

Publication Date: 19 Sept 2021

Publication Site: The Epoch Times

States Divest Unilever Stock Over Ben & Jerry’s Boycott

Link: https://www.ai-cio.com/news/states-divest-unilever-stock-over-ben-jerrys-boycott/

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State treasurers in New Jersey and Arizona are divesting approximately $325 million in investments from consumer goods giant Unilever after subsidiary Ben & Jerry said it will stop selling its ice cream in Israeli-occupied territories.

In July, the company said in a statement that it was “inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” It said it has informed the licensee that manufacturers the ice cream in the region that it will not renew its license when it expires at the end of 2022. Despite leaving the Palestinian territories, Ben & Jerry’s said it will stay in Israel through a different arrangement that has not yet been determined.

A New Jersey law enacted in 2016 requires state pension funds to withdraw investments from any company that boycotts the goods, products, or businesses of Israel or companies operating in Israel or territories occupied by Israel. The law requires the state to create a blacklist of companies that boycott Israel.

Author(s): Michael Katz

Publication Date: 20 Sept 2021

Publication Site: ai-CIO

NYPD unions to pull out of pension fund group, Comptroller Stringer urges them to reconsider

Link: https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/new-york-elections-government/ny-nypd-unions-pull-out-pension-fund-group-20210920-472g2q3jn5hr5hk2lhgtgitvia-story.html

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New York City police unions that hold partial control over how their members’ pension money is invested are planning to pull out of a consortium of other city pension funds that Comptroller Scott Stringer has credited with considerably augmenting their return on investment.

In 2015, Stringer launched what’s come to be known as the Common Investment Meeting, where the trustees of the city’s five largest union pension funds meet to hash out how their money is managed.

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According to Stringer, the CIM has boosted the pension funds’ growth overall, with their rate of return hitting 11.58% over the five years since the CIM was created, compared to a 7.02% rate of return for the five years prior to its creation.

The police pension funds’ trustees are made up of several police unions. The most powerful among them is the Police Benevolent Association.

The PBA’s head, Patrick Lynch, pointed out that the CIM began as a pilot program and disputed the idea that, over the past five years, it’s made life easier for the funds’ trustees.

Author(s): Michael Gartland

Publication Date: 19 Sept 2021

Publication Site: NY Daily News

New Jersey set to shed $182 million Unilever assets over Ben & Jerry’s boycott

Link: https://uk.news.yahoo.com/jersey-set-shed-182-million-225836260.html

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A New Jersey state treasury official said on Wednesday it is set to divest $182 million in Unilever Plc stock and bonds held by its pension funds over the restriction of sales by the consumer giant’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

It is the latest action by a U.S. state challenging Unilever over Ben & Jerry’s move in July to end a license for its ice cream to be sold in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Ben & Jerry’s said selling its products there was “inconsistent with its values.”

New Jersey’s Division of Investment had said on Tuesday it made a preliminary determination that maintaining its investment in Unilever would be a breach of a state law barring it from investing in companies boycotting Israel. It gave the company 90 days to request a modification of the order.

Author(s): Ross Kerber

Publication Date: 15 Sept 2021

Publication Site: Yahoo News

As Comptroller, Lander Would Use ‘Environmental, Social and Governance’ Factors to Inform Pension Investment

Link: https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/10773-comptroller-lander-environmental-social-governance-esg-pension-investment?mc_cid=234d7207fb&mc_eid=1a5d3a1f3d

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The New York City Comptroller is an investment advisor and fiduciary for New York City’s $266 billion public pension system that serves 700,000 current and former teachers, firefighters, health care workers, police officers, and other retired city employees.

Brad Lander, the Democratic nominee for Comptroller, is all but certain to win the general election this fall in the overwhelmingly Democratic city after prevailing in a competitive primary earlier this year. If successful, Lander would be inaugurated in January and soon be able to make recommendations to the Boards of Trustees of the city’s five public pension funds on how their many billions should be invested, while also voting directly on four of the five pension boards, making him the key figure in almost all investment decisions.

The implications are significant given that city workers’ pensions are on the line, and because the city guarantees those pensions, billions are spent each year to make up for what the pensions themselves don’t produce in returns. Better returns from pension fund investments can save city government a significant amount of money that could be used for other priorities or put aside for a crisis.

Those investment decisions can also be made to further other goals than simply the funds’ bottom lines, though the returns and overall financial health of the pension funds are the comptroller’s main city charter-mandated responsibility.

Author(s): Carmen Vintro

Publication Date: 17 Sept 2021

Publication Site: Gotham Gazette

Chicago Police Pension Forensic Audit Ends With Disturbing Findings

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsiedle/2021/09/03/chicago-police-pension-forensic-audit-ends-with-disturbing-findings/?sh=18a0d9717c0c

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This week, the Chicago Police Department Pension Board Accountability Group—comprised of retired and active Chicago police officers and their dependents— released the scathing findings of a forensic audit of the Chicago Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund. The Group hired an outside expert to conduct the forensic audit after the pension refused their request to do so on its own.

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According to a lawsuit filed this week by Tobe, the pension denied most of his requests for records under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. It’s no secret that state and local government pensions—which are supposed to be the most transparent of all pensions—are regularly criticized for opposing public record requests, particularly related to alternative investment documents.

The report accuses the pension of failing to monitor and fully disclose investment fees and expenses.  It is estimated that fees and expenses could be 10 times greater than the $7.4 million disclosed in the pension’s most recent financial audit.  Tobe believes the fees related to dozens of investment managers are not properly disclosed. Using assumptions from an Oxford study, Tobe estimated that undisclosed fees could be as high as $70 million a year. Also, $2 million to $3 million a year in investment fees may have been paid to Wall Street for doing nothing, i.e., fees on committed, uninvested capital

Author(s): Edward Siedle

Publication Date: 3 Sept 2021

Publication Site: Forbes

The State Pension Funding Gap: Plans Have Stabilized in Wake of Pandemic

Link: https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2021/09/the-state-pension-funding-gap-plans-have-stabilized-in-wake-of-pandemic

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Most analysts attribute the strong market performance to historically low interest rates and an unprecedented $5 trillion in federal stimulus in response to the pandemic. In addition, the economy is now recovering at a rapid pace, with recent projections by the Congressional Budget Office, Moody’s, and the Federal Reserve forecasting a return to pre-pandemic levels of gross domestic product by calendar year 2022 or before.3

However, the path to recovery remains uncertain, and the long-term forecast for economic growth and pension investment returns is less rosy. The Congressional Budget Office expects average real economic growth of 1.6% between 2026 and 2031 and nominal growth of 3.7% over the same time frame—significantly lower than the historical average.4 As such, market experts now estimate equity returns, which are related to economic growth and current market value of stocks, to be 6.4% over the long term, compared with 6.7% before the pandemic.5 And with interest rates currently lower than pre-pandemic levels, they also project bonds to yield just 2% over the next decade before returning to the pre-pandemic expected yield of about 4%.6

Author(s): Greg Mennis, David Draine

Publication Date: 14 Sept 2021

Publication Site: Pew Trusts

Guest Commentary | Politicians’ next pension ‘fix’: Gambling with your money

Link: https://www.news-gazette.com/opinion/guest-commentary/guest-commentary-politicians-next-pension-fix-gambling-with-your-money/article_7865780f-7ed8-5c1e-8cc5-1ee4e43ca3cb.html#new_tab

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Gambling on the stock market to get out of financial troubles. It’s a fool’s game, but that’s exactly what some politicians in Illinois are considering now to address their cities’ growing pension crises. Lawmakers want to borrow money from the bond market to pay down pension debts by issuing what are known as pension-obligation bonds.

The borrowing scheme is a bit more complicated than the household example, but in essence, pension-obligation bonds are all about taking out a loan, then investing that money and hoping the returns beat out the costs of the loan.

It’s a lose-lose game for taxpayers. If politicians get it right, governments will have extra money to spend and grow even bigger. And if politicians get the bets wrong, they’ll come after taxpayers to pay off their gambling losses.

That’s one of the reasons why national organizations like the Government Finance Officers Association say “state and local governments should not issue POBs.”

Author(s): Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner

Publication Date: 12 September 2021

Publication Site: The News-Gazette