Nevada’s Pension Debt Soars to $18B, Teachers Pay Nation’s Highest Retirement Costs

Link: https://www.npri.org/pension-debt-soars-nv-teachers-now-pay-highest-rates-in-us/

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PERS consists of two separate plans: one for police and fire members (the safety plan); and one for everyone else (the regular plan).

The annual contribution rates for safety plan members will rise to 50 percent in July — which means taxpayers must send PERS an additional 50 cents for every $1 in salary paid to police officers and firefighters. The contribution rate for regular plan members, which includes teachers, will rise to 33.5 percent of salary.

PERS costs are split evenly between taxpayers and the employee, with the employee typically paying their half through an equivalent salary reduction. This means that regular plan members, which include teachers, will see their paychecks reduced by nearly 17 percent annually starting this July — a rate that is higher than what any other group of comparable public employees nationwide pays for their respective PERS plan.

Unfortunately, these record-high contributions will not be enough to stop PERS’s debt from continuing to grow, according to the system’s just-released actuarial report.

Indeed, PERS’s actuary had determined that much larger rate increases are needed (37.5 percent for regular plan members and 57.5 percent for safety members), but the PERS Board directed the actuary to “phase-in” the necessary cost increase incrementally over four years, rather than all at once. But there is a cost to delaying the implementation of the necessary contribution rate increases — more debt, and thus a greater likelihood of future rate hikes.

Author(s): Robert Fellner

Publication Date: 9 Jan 2023

Publication Site: Nevada Policy Research Institute

Debt Forgiveness Won’t Shield Students from Illinois’ Pension Pinch

Link: https://www.realclearpolicy.com/articles/2022/09/14/debt_forgiveness_wont_shield_students_from_illinois_pension_pinch_853360.html

Excerpt:

Families in Illinois are now burdened with the fourth most expensive in-state tuition prices in the nation, and the highest in the Midwest. 

Take U of I’s flagship Urbana-Champaign campus, with base tuition and fees now starting at $17,138 a year. In comparison, a Big-10 education for in-state students attending Indiana University-Bloomington or the University of Wisconsin-Madison costs nearly $6,000 less.

Illinois schools cost more because most other states don’t have Illinois-sized pension debt – most recently estimated at $140 billion by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. 

Illinois Policy Institute research shows state funding has declined for higher education operations by 26%  in real terms from fiscal year 2007 through fiscal year 2022, while spending on university pensions has exploded by 514%.

Another way of looking at it is the State Universities Retirement System pension payments accounted for 9% of the state’s higher education spending in 2007. Today, they account for 44% of total higher education dollars. That translates to $776 million less for colleges and universities to allocate toward services that directly benefit students in 2022.

Author(s): Amy Korte

Publication Date: 14 Sept 2022

Publication Site: Real Clear Policy

Appeals Court Rules In City’s Favor Following Challenge From The Houston Fire Firefighters’ Relief And Retirement Fund

Link: https://cityofhouston.news/appeals-court-rules-in-citys-favor-following-challenge-from-the-houston-fire-firefighters-relief-and-retirement-fund/

Excerpt:

Today, the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas reversed and rendered a decision in favor of the City of Houston against the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund (HFRRF).

HFRRF had challenged the constitutionality of a Texas statute designed to reform the City’s firefighter pension system that ensures that the actuarial assumptions for determining the City’s contribution rates are based on sound actuarial principles and establishes a process for setting the contribution rate when the City’s and HFRRF’s proposed contribution rates differ by more than two percentage points.

“The City of Houston has consistently maintained the constitutionality of the historic pension reform and welcomes the appeals court ruling,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “The firefighters’ pension is now 93 percent funded – compared to just 80 percent funded pre-pension reform – and is actuarially sound. It is important to note that the three pension systems – municipal, police, and fire – are healthier today because of the pension reform we have put in place.”

The latest ruling is the second time the Court of Appeals has upheld the constitutionality of the statute reforming the firefighter pension system, making the pension system more secure for Houston’s firefighters, both now and in the future.

The estimated unfunded pension liability reached as high as $8.2 billion before the 2017 reforms. Today, the unfunded liability of the City’s three pension plans is less than $1.5 billion.

Author(s): MAYOR’S OFFICE FILED UNDER: MYR – OFFICE OF THE MAYOR

Publication Date: 30 Aug 2022 (updated 14 Sept 2022?)

Publication Site: City of Houston, Texas

Ohio’s Out-of-the-Box Pension

Link: https://www.toledoblade.com/opinion/editorials/2022/09/18/editorial-ohio-out-of-the-box-public-pension/stories/20220914044

Excerpt:

Alarm bells should be ringing about the Ohio Police & Fire Pension following the release of a fiduciary audit of the fund, finished six years after the legal deadline.

Ignoring the law falls on the Ohio Retirement Study Council and their creator, the Ohio General Assembly. But the warnings on investment risk within the OP&F portfolio demand immediate, widespread attention.

The combined pension contribution for police is 31.75 percent of their salary and with firefighters the employer-employee combination is 36.25 percent.

…..

Ohio Police & Fire is “clearly thinking outside the box,” according to Funston Advisory Services. “OP&F is among a very small number of major institutional investors to have adopted a risk parity investment approach across the plan’s entire investment structure,” Funston tells us. Ohio’s police and fire pension is also a pioneer in an investment strategy called “portable alpha.”

In each case, the characteristic that separates OP&F from the rest of the public pension pack is “meaningful use of portfolio leverage.” The Ohio safety forces pension is using one of the riskiest investment strategies in America. The 25 percent of leverage showing on the balance sheet is actually much higher because the alternative investments also include leverage.

The entire portfolio is managed by outside managers, 135 fund managers by our count, who pulled down “mind boggling” fees according to pension expert Richard Ennis. If Mr. Ennis’ name sounds familiar you probably remember he was the expert Ohio turned to for comprehensive analysis of the Coingate scandal at the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. Mr. Ennis gave us an assessment of the OP&F performance over the last 10 years that indicates the pension matched the results of an index fund despite the high fees.

Author(s): The Blade Editorial Board

Publication Date: 18 Sept 2022

Publication Site: The Toledo Blade

Districts Spend Up to a Third of Their Payroll on Pensions. What That Means for Budgets

Link: https://www.edweek.org/leadership/districts-spend-up-to-a-third-of-their-payroll-on-pensions-what-that-means-for-budgets/2022/09

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In at least some states and school districts, the share of pension costs now amounts to nearly a third of payroll, concludes a new analysis from Moody’s Investors Service, a credit-rating firm.

The gradually increasing burden of retirement costs on districts isn’t a new phenomenon. But the latest analysis is a good reminder of how pensions act as the third rail of district and state school finance—even if the average educator, parent, and principal doesn’t know a ton about their complexities.

Retirements don’t directly have much to do with the instructional quality students receive, but indirectly, they have a lot of impact. Cash going into these systems generally means it’s not going toward building improvements, teacher pay, learning materials, or programs.

Author(s): Stephen Sawchuk

Publication Date: 12 Sept 2022

Publication Site: Education Week

DiNapoli: NYSLRS Announces Employers’ Retirement System Contribution Rates for 2023-2024

Link: https://www.osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/2022/09/dinapoli-nyslrs-announces-employers-retirement-system-contribution-rates-2023-2024&utm_source=weekly+news&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=nyslrs&utm_term=contribution+rates&utm_content=20220903

Report: https://www.osc.state.ny.us/files/retirement/resources/pdf/actuarial-assumptions-2022.pdf

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New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli today announced employer contribution rates for the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS). Employers’ average contribution rates for the State Fiscal Year 2023-24 will increase from 11.6% to 13.1% of payroll for the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and from 27.0% to 27.8% of payroll for the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS).

NYSLRS is made up of these two systems, which pay retirement and disability benefits to public employees and death benefits to their survivors.

“The state pension fund’s performance in the fiscal year that ended March 31 was strong, but recent domestic and global economic volatility demands caution,” DiNapoli said. “As we move forward with our prudent investment strategy, we remain focused on long-term stable returns for New York’s public employers and workforce. Uncertainty may be a constant in financial markets, but the rates announced today will help ensure that New York’s pension fund will continue to be one of the nation’s strongest and best funded, ready to provide retirement security for generations to come.”

Author(s): press release of Office of State Comptroller of New York

Publication Date: 1 Sept 2022

Publication Site: Office of the State Comptroller

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

Colin McNickle: Are Pittsburgh’s pension changes prudent?

Link:https://triblive.com/opinion/colin-mcnickle-are-pittsburghs-pension-changes-prudent/

Excerpt:

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?”

Author(s): Colin McNickle

Publication Date: 3 Feb 2022

Publication Site: Trib Live

Board members of Pa.’s largest pension fund asked to sign secrecy oaths

Link: https://www.witf.org/2022/01/21/board-members-of-pa-s-largest-pension-fund-asked-to-sign-secrecy-oaths/

Excerpt:

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.

The inquiry was conducted by Womble Bond Dickinson, a law firm hired by the board last year to conduct an internal investigation into the error as PSERS coped with the federal probes. The system has agreed to pay Womble up to $367,600 in fees for its work, with partners collecting up to $695 an hour.

Author(s): Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA and Joseph N. DiStefano of The Inquirer

Publication Date: 21 Jan 2022

Publication Site: WITF

Milwaukee pension debt clouds Wisconsin’s otherwise positive retirement system picture

Link:https://reason.org/commentary/milwaukee-pension-debt-clouds-wisconsins-otherwise-positive-retirement-system-picture/

Excerpt:

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.

Author(s):Marc Joffe

Publication Date:13 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Reason

Tiering Up – The Unfinished Business of Public Pension Reform in New York

Link:https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/tieringup/

PDF of report: https://www.empirecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Tiering-Up_FINAL-Copy.pdf

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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.

Author(s): E.J. McMahon

Publication Date: 14 Dec 2021

Publication Site: Empire Center

Pennsylvania’s Biggest Pension Racks Up Costs After Misreporting Returns

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/pennsylvanias-biggest-pension-racks-up-costs-after-misreporting-returns-11620990002

Excerpt:

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.

Author(s): Preeti Singh

Publication Date: 14 May 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal