Citizens must be accurately informed for government to work

Link: https://www.news-gazette.com/opinion/columns/sheila-weinberg-citizens-must-be-accurately-informed-for-government-to-work/article_5d93e9cf-73c5-54c9-b762-133f91a94824.html

Excerpt:

An example of questionable disclosure practices is found in the Illinois budgeting and financial reporting process, specifically regarding pension contributions. In 1994, then-Gov. Jim Edgar led an effort to pass a bipartisan bill to solve the state’s $15 billion pension deficit. The plan would resolve the deficit within 50 years. The plan was structured to pay down the debt very slowly in the first 15 years and accelerate at the end. This ensured that sitting politicians in the early days of the plan would not be required to make the necessary tax increases or budget cuts to pay down the debt in a meaningful way.

This program is shown in charts to look like a skateboard ramp, appropriately named the “Edgar Ramp.” The problem is, the plan doesn’t work.

It is so unsuccessful that the Illinois pension deficit has grown from $15 billion to $317 billion as of June 30, 2020, according to Moody’s Investors Service. The state’s latest bond offering document emphasizes, “The state’s contributions to the retirement systems, while in conformity with state law, have been less than the contributions necessary to fully fund the retirement systems as calculated by the actuaries of the retirement systems.”

The latest Illinois Annual Comprehensive Financial Report discloses cash-flow problems, significantly underfunded pension obligations, other post-retirement benefit deficits and multiple references to debt-obligation bonds.

Author(s): Shiela Weinberg

Publication Date: 7 Aug 2022

Publication Site: News Gazette

The Government Pension Reckoning Cometh

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-government-pension-reckoning-cometh-equable-institute-report-11660084312?st=j8a7o7efyyvjtdp&reflink=article_email_share&utm_source=Wirepoints+Newsletter&utm_campaign=24f39fc2e0-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_895ee9abf9-24f39fc2e0-30506353#new_tab

Excerpt:

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System reported a negative 6.1% return for the year, which includes a 21.3% positive return on private equity and 24.1% return on real estate as reported through the second quarter of 2022. What will happen if real-estate prices start to fall and some leveraged private-equity buyouts go south amid rising interest rates?

Collective-bargaining agreements limit how much workers must contribute to their pensions, so taxpayers are required to make up for investment losses. Employer retirement contributions—that is, taxpayers—make up 20% of government worker compensation. That amount has soared over the past decade as pension funds tried to make up for losses during the 2008-2009 financial panic.

A recent report by the Equable Institute found that state and local pension plans now are only 77.9% funded on average, which is about the same as in 2008. But some like Chicago’s are less than 40%. Advice to taxpayers in Illinois: Run.

Author(s): WSJ Editorial Board

Publication Date: 9 Aug 2022

Publication Site: WSJ

Ken Griffin talks the pension crisis, a once-secret meeting with Pritzker

Link: https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-opinion-ken-griffin-illinois-pension-jb-pritzker-desantis-20220809-jnrzlzbpvbfcnjauz522qcvi4m-story.html?utm_source=Wirepoints+Newsletter&utm_campaign=24f39fc2e0-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_895ee9abf9-24f39fc2e0-22956053

Excerpt:

Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of Citadel, spoke in his Chicago office to Editorial Page Editor Chris Jones on Aug. 2. This transcript has been edited for length.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said you and he met privately and that you agreed to drop your opposition to his graduated tax proposal if he took on pension reform in Illinois. True?

The Illinois pension crisis is rooted in the issue that politicians of the moment are able to make promises to the public sector workers, where the cost of those promises are borne by taxpayers, far into the future. So we have an intrinsic lack of accountability within the state when it comes to that dynamic between the leaders in Springfield and the public sector unions. (Former Gov.) Bruce Rauner and I actually would speak about this problem from time to time because it’s pretty well known that Bruce felt the state should move to a defined contribution program for the state employees.

And there are elements of that I think are attractive, but because the state employees do not participate in Social Security, a strictly defined contribution proposal leaves the state employee, in my opinion, at undue risk of adverse events if they do not invest their money successfully. … And there’s another issue, which is that the costs of the promises made by cities and counties are not borne by the cities and counties directly, they’re socialized across the entire taxpayer base of the state. So it’s pretty easy for the behavior of a number of Illinois cities to offer incredible increases in pay in final years to boost pension benefits, and that cost comes back to all Illinois taxpayers.

So these are some of the areas in which the average man in the street is really being handed a very significant bill. And the most tragic part of this whole story is that when the state hires people early in their careers, they’re not even placing that much value on these pension plans.

Twenty-two-year-olds don’t make lifetime career decisions on pension benefits. So, from my perspective, as a state we’re much better off having higher starting salaries to attract really good people to serve in the public sector. And, as with Bruce, my advice to the governor was consistently that either the state should mirror the benefits of Social Security as a baseline or, even better, go back to the federal government and get into Social Security again. We should reverse our opt-out from decades ago. And then to the extent that a city wants to offer benefits in excess of the Social Security baseline amount, that’s pay-as-you-go through a 401(k)-equivalent program. …

The proposal that I gave to J.B. to solve the state’s pension problems is exactly what I just shared with you. … It would, in all likelihood, require us to amend the constitution for the state to head in this direction. It might be for new employees only. I’m very sensitive to a promise made and earned. That’s your benefit. That’s a very different talking point than you’re 22 years old and it’s your first day working for the state.

But, big picture, we get the state into a program that looks like what I just described. And it’s gonna accelerate, in all likelihood, the costs of the current system. It may require revenue increases.

And like many of the business leaders in this city, I was very direct. I said, “If you’re willing to engage in pension reform, I’m willing to publicly support you in a tax increase.” It wasn’t graduated versus not graduated. It was just a tax increase.

I would’ve assumed that this meeting would’ve been private for the rest of my life until J.B. decided to open the door and talk about this. What he did talk about in terms of fiscal reform for the state was to restructure the state’s (information technology) budget.

And he felt he could achieve $50 million in budget savings for the state of Illinois by taking an ax toward our IT budget for the state, and that was going to be his victory lap for fiscal discipline in the state of Illinois. Here we have a multibillion-dollar problem on the left and 50 million (dollars) on the right. I was like, “J.B., we’re not having the same conversation here.”

To be clear, that was a fracturing moment between the two of us. … He does not want to use his political capital for good. He wants to maintain that capital to maintain the certainty of staying in power.

Author(s): Chris Jones

Publication Date: 10 Aug 2022

Publication Site: Chicago Tribune

NY Woman Admits To Hiding Mom’s Death, Stealing $240K In Pension Benefits

Link: https://dailyvoice.com/new-york/northsalem/news/ny-woman-admits-to-hiding-moms-death-stealing-240k-in-pension-benefits/840187/

Excerpt:

A New York woman is facing prison time after admitting that she hid her mother’s death for years in order to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in her teacher pension benefits.

Long Island resident Cynthia Rozzell, of Hempstead, pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny on Tuesday, Aug. 9.

Prosecutors said Rozzell concealed the death of her mother, Mary Garrett, and collected pension benefits issued to Garrett by the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System (NYSTRS) between May 2014 and May 2020.

…..

“Pension theft is not a victimless crime,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “By stealing her deceased mother’s pension benefits, Ms. Rozzell dishonored countless hardworking New Yorkers who have dedicated their lives to one of our most noble professions: teaching and enriching our youth.”

Author(s): Michael Mashburn

Publication Date: 9 Aug 2022

Publication Site: Daily Voice

Pa. elections official blames spreadsheet for state’s mistake in certifying a county’s election results

Link: https://www.inquirer.com/news/pennsylvania-certification-lawsuit-primary-election-results-20220808.html

Excerpt:

But in a court filing Monday, Jonathan Marks, the deputy elections secretary, acknowledged that a fourth county, Butler, had also refused to count those ballots — and that the county had notified the department three weeks before the lawsuit was filed.

Marks apologized to the court for what he described as an oversight resulting from “a manual process” — a spreadsheet — the department had used to track which counties were counting undated ballots. Butler County was misclassified in the spreadsheet, he said, and from that point forward was left out of the state’s campaign to push counties that hadn’t included them.

Author(s): Jonathan Lai, Jeremy Roebuck

Publication Date: 8 Aug 2022

Publication Site: The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas needs to adjust its investment return assumptions

Link: https://reason.org/commentary/the-teacher-retirement-system-of-texas-needs-to-adjust-its-investment-return-assumptions/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

An adjustment of the assumed rate of return down to 7.0% means the plan will recalculate pension debt upwards in 2023, but will also be better positioned to avoid future debt growth over the longer run. The forecast in Figure 2 compares the growth of TRS’ unfunded liabilities under three scenarios: 

  1. Returns meet TRS assumptions;
  2. TRS experiences two major recessions over the next 30 years;
  3. And, TRS makes actuarially determined contributions (also using the two-recession scenario).

With this actuarial modeling of the system, it is clear that statutorily limited contributions will continue to pose funding risks for TRS that will be borne by Texas taxpayers. A proposed 7.0% assumed return will readjust 2023 unfunded liabilities upwards by $6.5 billion, but the plan will suffer fewer investment losses over the next 30 years when the plan inevitably experiences returns that diverge from expectations. TRS’ unfunded liabilities will remain elevated under the rigid statutorily-set contributions. If, however, TRS was to transition to Actuarially Determined Employer Contributions (ADEC) each year, then even by recognizing higher 2023 debt (under a 7.0% assumption) TRS could shave billions off its unfunded liabilities by 2052 ($74.7 billion down from $81.3 billion with current 7.25% assumption).  

Author(s): Anil Niraula, Zachary Christensen

Publication Date: 15 Jun 2022

Publication Site: Reason

Excess mortality in England

Link: https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=eyJrIjoiYmUwNmFhMjYtNGZhYS00NDk2LWFlMTAtOTg0OGNhNmFiNGM0IiwidCI6ImVlNGUxNDk5LTRhMzUtNGIyZS1hZDQ3LTVmM2NmOWRlODY2NiIsImMiOjh9

Data download:

Graphic:

Excerpt:

The numbers of expected deaths are estimated using statistical models and based on previous 5 years’ (2015 to 2019) mortality rates. Weekly monitoring of excess mortality from all causes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic provides an objective and comparable measure of the scale of the pandemic [reference 1]. Measuring excess mortality from all causes, instead of focusing solely on mortality from COVID-19, overcomes the issues of variation in testing and differential coding of cause of death between individuals and over time [reference 1].


In the weekly reports, estimates of excess deaths are presented by week of registration at national and subnational level, for subgroups of the population (age groups, sex, deprivation groups, ethnic groups) and by cause of death and place of death.

Author(s): Office for Health Improvement and Disparities

Publication Date: accessed 10 Aug 2022

Publication Site: Public PowerBI dashboard

Book Review: A Global History of the Black Death

Link: https://undark.org/2022/07/29/book-review-a-global-history-of-the-black-death/

Excerpt:

James Belich’s new book, “The World the Plague Made: The Black Death and the Rise of Europe,” shows the depth and longevity of the controversy over the sources and impacts of an era-defining scourge. Belich, an Oxford University historian, suggests that what is now known as the Black Death was so consequential that its effects equal those of the Enlightenment, the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, and the Renaissance. It’s a staggering implication, but he makes a decent case for it in this bold, tremendously researched work. From illustrating the plague’s effects globally to showing how central it was to Europe’s ascension, Belich demonstrates that the medieval pandemic influenced many aspects of human life.

Once called the Great Death or the Great Plague, the pandemic lasted hundreds of years and was so deadly that it is still popularly referred to simply as the Plague. “The Black Death Pandemic, beginning in 1345, persisted for more than three centuries and involved about 30 major epidemics in all,” writes Belich. What’s more, it “did not always behave like the modern pandemic,” he writes further on. “It killed far more people, for one thing.” Belich’s book implicitly underscores that, compared to the devastation of the plague, Covid-19 is relatively insignificant.

Just how many deaths was the Black Death responsible for? Despite centuries of debate on the subject, there is no consensus. The common belief is that the first wave killed between 25 percent and 33 percent of Western Europeans. (The historian Barbara Tuchman advanced the one-third estimate in her best-selling 1978 book about the 14th century, “A Distant Mirror.”) Belich suggests that the number was far higher. In the first strike alone, the population of Western Europe was cut in half, he writes, citing studies about the death rates in England, France, Italy, and Scandinavia. Many places didn’t return to their pre-plague population levels for some 250 years. (Despite his claims, the true extent of the toll is still widely contested.)

….

In Belich’s view, what made the plague different from other major historical events and catastrophes was that, while it decimated the human population, it left the material world untouched. It “doubled the average amount per person of everything,” from horses to housing, he writes. For a time, this meant more resources for survivors and greater access to luxury goods, better living conditions, and higher wages for workers.

Author(s): Jordan Michael Smith

Publication Date: 29 July 2022

Publication Site: unDark

Justice Department Ends Investigation of Pennsylvania PSERS

Link: https://www.ai-cio.com/news/justice-department-ends-investigation-of-pennsylvania-psers/

Excerpt:

The Department of Justice has dropped its investigation into the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System, said Chris Santa Maria, chairman of the $75.9 billion pension fund’s board of trustees, in a statement. PSERS made no further comment on the matter.

The pension fund had been under investigation by the Justice Department since at least May of last year, when subpoenas indicated that the FBI and prosecutors were seeking evidence of kickbacks and bribes at PSERS.

The subpoenas were reportedly looking for information from the pension fund, its executive director, chief financial officer, chief auditing officer and deputy CIO. The court orders reportedly showed that the FBI and prosecutors were probing possible “honest services fraud” and wire fraud.

….

According to a report released earlier this year following an internal investigation, PSERS investment consultant Aon took responsibility for the accounting error. The report includes a letter from Aon to Grossman that said the firm had become aware of data corruption in some sub-composite market values, cashflows and returns for April 2015.

Aon attributed the data corruption to an error by an analyst in uploading net asset value and cashflow data into the performance system it uses. The company said the data corruption impacted “a few asset class composites” in the public markets.

Author(s): Michael Katz

Publication Date: 3 Aug 2022

Publication Site: ai-CIO

What is the State of Pensions in 2022?

Link: https://www.truthinaccounting.org/news/detail/what-is-the-state-of-pensions-in-2022

Excerpt:

State retirement systems in America are still Fragile. 

….

Despite state and local plans reporting disappointing preliminary investment returns averaging -10.4% in 2022 , there has been a net positive funded ratio trend on net over the past three years. 

Funded status in 2022 for state and local retirement systems has declined considerably from last year, the sharpest single-year decline since the Great Recession and financial crisis. Investment return volatility is contributing to some significant swings in funded levels, which has been compounded by rising inflation and geopolitical turmoil. 

Author(s): Anthony Randazzo, Jonathan Moody

Publication Date: 26 July 2022

Publication Site: Truth in Accounting

Sources of Fluctuations in Short-Term Yields and Recession Probabilities

Link: https://www.chicagofed.org/publications/chicago-fed-letter/2022/469

Graphic:

Excerpt:

We simulate future realizations of the policy gap and the slope of inflation forecasts from the 2022:Q2 initial conditions through 2023:Q4 using the ABC model. We then evaluate the recession probability predicted by our preferred probit model for each of these simulated paths. Through this analysis, we show that future inflation outcomes and the odds of a recession depend critically on both the pace of removal of monetary policy accommodation and on how restrictive the monetary policy stance will become over the medium term. In particular, we highlight two scenarios: The first one, which we refer to as the “baseline case,” reflects the ABC model forecasts or, equivalently, the average of all simulated paths. The second one, which we label the “tighter-policy scenario,” is characterized by a faster removal of monetary policy accommodation; it is identified by the average of the simulated paths in which policy becomes restrictive by the end of 2022.11

1. Baseline case: As of early June 2022, the ABC model predicts that nominal and real yields will rise over the next six quarters, the current policy gap will narrow and become mildly restrictive in mid-2023, while core inflation will fall and remain around one percentage point above its model-implied longer-run expectations through 2023 (figure 2, blue lines in panels A and B). The expected tightening of the policy gap and a downward-sloping expected inflation path combine to increase the one-year-ahead recession probability to about 35% by 2023 (figure 2, blue line panel C). Such a level is comparable to the one estimated ahead of the 1994 monetary policy tightening cycle that was followed by a soft-landing scenario.

2. Tighter-policy scenario: In this alternative scenario, monetary policy becomes more restrictive than in the baseline case, in that the policy gap is markedly restrictive over 2023. In this case we find that core inflation declines more rapidly than under the baseline, closing the gap with its model-implied longer-run expectations almost completely by the end of 2023. By that date, in this scenario the likelihood of a recession approaches 60%, a level that, based on our historical estimates, is generally followed by a recession in our sample (figure 2, red lines).

Author(s): Andrea Ajello , Luca Benzoni , Makena Schwinn , Yannick Timmer , Francisco Vazquez-Grande

Publication Date: August 2022

Publication Site: Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

Individual Disability Carriers Steer Through Uncertain Times

Link: https://www.genre.com/knowledge/blog/2022/august/individual-disability-carriers-steer-through-uncertain-times-en

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Seventeen carriers participated in our 2021 U.S. Individual Disability Market Survey, representing 99% of the market and $5.1 billion of in‑force premium. New sales in 2021 were $399 million which was flat when compared to new sales in 2020. Breaking this down even further, both Non-Cancelable (Non‑Can) and Guaranteed Renewable (GR) sales were flat when compared to 2020. Non‑Can was down 0.1% and GR was up 0.5%. Of the $399 million in total new sales premium, Non‑Can products represent 84% or $334 million, and GR is 16% or $65 million.

When asked about meeting their 2021 sales goals, 47% of the responding companies said they missed theirs. 18% of the companies met and 35% of the companies exceeded their goals. Some of the reasons given for missing sales goals were:

COVID limited face-to-face contact with consumers

Agents were focused on other products such as life insurance

The number of new policies issued grew by 2% to over 251,000 and total benefit amounts increased by 3% to more than $1.6 billion. The medical market continues to be a main driver of new business. In 2021, close to 30% of all new policies sold were in the medical market; however, the industry did see some growth down-market with increases in the number of new policies sold in the blue collar space.

Author(s): Steve Woods

Publication Date: 3 Aug 2022

Publication Site: Gen Re Perspective