The City of Pittsburgh has revised its employee pension program. But whether the moves were prudent remains an open question, concludes an analysis by the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.
It was in December that outgoing Mayor Bill Peduto signed ordinances that eliminated a pension reduction for some city employees, modified the employee contribution rate and extended the number of years that the city will dedicate parking taxes to those pensions.
All this said, new ordinances return and/or add more city employees to the pension plans’ liabilities, increasing them from $87.9 million to $96.9 million, based on an actuarial analysis. And they assume a robust recovery in post-pandemic parking tax revenue to meet the pledged contribution to the pension plans.
But do remember that the 2010 ordinance states that the city’s full faith and credit are pledged to meet the parking tax obligation. “That means other sources of tax or non-tax revenue may be called upon if needed,” Montarti says.
“If the city can reach an 80% funding ratio without the inclusion of the parking tax pledge, then it is possible that the dedication of the revenue to the pensions may end earlier than 2051, based on language in the new ordinances,” he says.
“Why not wait until the pension funding ratio was further into that range or, even better, actually met the level of ‘no distress’ (of 90 percent or above)?” Montarti asks. “What if the stock market underperforms and the city’s pensions lose ground?”
Leaders of Pennsylvania’s beleaguered teachers’ pension fund are requesting that board members sign oaths of secrecy before receiving a critical update on the botched investment calculation scandal that has led to multiple federal investigations.
On Thursday morning, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System board told members in an email that they must sign a yet-to-be-drafted non-disclosure agreement to participate in a closed-door meeting later this month.
The meeting, scheduled for Jan. 31, is pivotal: Board members are poised to be presented with the findings of a taxpayer-funded inquiry into an investment calculation mistake in late 2020 that wrongly spared teachers a potential hike in their pension payments, leaving taxpayers to make up the difference over time. The calculation was later fixed, and teacher payments increased.
According to its most recent actuarial report, the Milwaukee County Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) had a funded ratio of 75.3% and unfunded liabilities of $569 million. The county also has separate retirement plans for mass transit employees and temporary employees, but these plans have relatively small unfunded liabilities.
Milwaukee County ERS’ liabilities grew, in part, because the county did not make its full actuarially determined contributions between 2012 and 2016, according to its most recent Annual Comprehensive Financial Report. During that five-year period, the county’s contributions fell $12 million short of recommended levels.
Since 2015, Milwaukee County’s contributions to ERS have tripled from $19 million to $57 million, as it began to meet and then exceed actuarial recommendations. These contributions exclude debt service the county pays on pension obligation bonds it issued in 2009 and 2013.
The Tier 5 and Tier 6 changes combined are saving New York state and local governments outside New York City more than $1 billion this year.
After record-busting investment returns in 2021, most of the state’s public pension plans report they are fully funded—but adjusting for financial risk, their combined unfunded liabilities still total nearly $400 billion.
The traditional defined-benefit pension system remains biased in favor of career and long-term employees, to the disadvantage of those who work shorter government careers.
The board of trustees overseeing the $62 billion Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System has spent more than $1 million so far to investigate and contain fallout from an inaccurate report on investment results delivered late last year. The report led to a mistaken conclusion that no increase in employee pension contributions would be needed this year.
The system’s trustees have hired batteries of lawyers since the mistake was revealed. The board said in April that it had hired law firms to conduct an investigation into the miscalculation and to respond to a federal grand jury subpoena requesting documents. It couldn’t be determined whether the subpoena relates to the miscalculation.
However, in March the pension system said that the actual nine-year return came to 6.34%, triggering an increase in employee pension contributions reportedly affecting some 100,000 workers whose contributions will increase by 0.50% to 0.75% starting July 1. For instance, a school worker who earns about $45,000 annually would have roughly $8.65 withheld from each biweekly paycheck, the system’s website explains.
Subpoenas indicate that the FBI and federal prosecutors are seeking evidence of kickbacks and bribes in an investigation of the $62 billion Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS)’s misstatement of its 2020 investment performance and its real estate investment in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
In December, PSERS’ board of trustees certified the contribution rates for its members. The board was told by its general investment consultant and another firm that the retirement system’s nine-year performance figure was 6.38%, which was just high enough to avoid triggering additional contributions under state law.
The court orders reportedly reveal that the FBI and prosecutors are investigating possible “honest services fraud” and wire fraud. Under a 2010 US Supreme Court ruling, federal prosecutors need proof of illegal payments to seek criminal charges against state officials for not providing honest services, the Inquirer reported.
No one at PSERS, including the executives who received subpoenas, has been accused of any wrongdoing.
And according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, PSERS’ board of trustees has spent more than $1 million and counting in its investigation of the reporting error.
Vermont lawmakers are pushing a plan to reduce a widening shortfall in the state’s retirement systems by asking teachers and state employees to pay more into their pension plans and work more years.
During a March 24 meeting, the Vermont House Government Operations Committee proposed teachers base contribution rates be raised by 1.25% to 2.25% and that most state employees be increased by 1.1%, according to a proposal posted on the Vermont General Assembly website.
The proposal also bumps up the age at which most workers can qualify for retirement benefits, requiring them to reach full Social Security retirement age, which is currently 66 or 67. Some groups of teachers and state employees can now retire as early as 62 or with 30 years of service.