PSERS and its troubles: A guide to the woes facing Pa.’s biggest pension plan

Link: https://www.inquirer.com/business/psers-sers-pension-fbi-scandal-investigaton-teachers-20210411.html

Excerpt:

The board in December found that PSERS yearly investment returns had averaged 6.38% over the last nine years — just above the 6.36% threshold needed to avoid an increase in pension payments from 100,000 school employees hired since 2011.

In 2010, the state adopted a so-called “risk sharing” mandate that requires school staff to pay more, as taxpayers do, when PSERS investments underperform. The law mandated that the review in 2020 look at average returns over the past nine years.

Author(s): Joseph N. DiStefano, Craig R. McCoy

Publication Date: 11 April 2021

Publication Site: Philadelphia Inquirer

Public Pension Plans Are Thirsty for Liquidity

Link: https://www.plansponsor.com/public-pension-plans-thirsty-liquidity/

Excerpt:

Chicago’s municipal pension plan recently redeemed $50 million from a large-cap equity fund. Seems like a non-event. Happens all the time. But the reason the pension plan did so is chilling: It was done specifically in order to make pension benefit payments. This should be a cautionary flag to underfunded pensions and to the state and municipal governments that sponsor them.

….

First, when pensions are underfunded they have a tendency (or need) to take on more risk in order to try to generate higher returns.

For example, underfunded pension plans are increasing their allocations to private equity. Nothing wrong with that. But that means more of the portfolio is illiquid. It would be very unlikely that private equity positions would be sold to “make payroll,” specifically because they are so illiquid. But this leaves fewer assets that are liquid enough to be sold, and that increases the pressure on those liquid assets to be sold at a decent price. Moreover, if the plan has significant assets in liquid securities, such as large-cap equities or Treasurys, those assets can easily be sold, but then the portfolio will be out of balance and will require additional trading and rebalancing anyway.

Secondly, the pension plan must keep more cash on hand than it otherwise would. If your policy portfolio calls for a 3% allocation to cash, that is designed for diversification and dry powder. But a pension plan sponsor should be providing significant amounts of cash into the pension each year. If the sponsor is not making its contributions, then the pension plan has to carry more cash than it otherwise would.

Author(s): Charles Millard

Publication Date: 7 April 2021

Publication Site: Plansponsor

Red Jahncke: A study’s error distorts debate on state pensions

Link: https://www.journalinquirer.com/opinion/other_commentary/red-jahncke-a-study-s-error-distorts-debate-on-state-pensions/article_498958aa-9872-11eb-bc83-837e67f2c17c.html

Excerpt:

Because Connecticut employees contributed so little to their own pensions, the cost to the state was actually higher than the average cost of pension benefits in the 50 states,  Here are the numbers from the center’s study (page 17). In 2014, Connecticut contributed 8.0% to SERS, while the 50-state average contribution was 7.0%. These percentages are pension cost as a percent of payroll cost.

The higher level in Connecticut was necessary because state employees contributed only 2.2% to their own pensions, while the 50-state average employee contribution was triple that amount, or 6.6%.

The differential between Connecticut’s 8% and the national average of 7% amounted to a 14.3% higher level in Connecticut. Either way you look at the extra 14.3% – as a higher state cost or as a larger employee benefit – it was overly generous. So how did the center make its mistake? Instead of recognizing the impact of the level of employee contributions, the center glossed over them and only looked at the gross unallocated cost of pension benefits, namely 10.2% in Connecticut versus an average of 13.6% in the 50 states. This creates an illusion opposite to reality. The fair and accurate measure is net cost for the state and net benefit for employees, which, in Connecticut, was 8%. The gross cost of the benefit of 10.2% was offset by the employee contributions of 2.2%, leaving both the state’s net cost and the employee’s net benefit at 8%. Nationally, a gross cost of 13.6% was offset by employee contributions of 6.6%, leaving a lower net cost/benefit of 7%.

Author(s): Red Jahncke

Publication Date: 8 April 2021

Publication Site: Journal Inquirer

San Diego’s pension payment spiking $50M, worsening budget crisis during pandemic

Link: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/politics/story/2021-01-17/san-diegos-pension-payment-spiking-50m-worsening-budget-crisis-during-pandemic

Graphic:

Excerpt:

San Diego’s annual pension payment will rise by nearly $50 million this June, making it much harder for the tourism-reliant city to balance its budget while tax revenues continue their sharp slide due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city’s pension board is requiring a $49.3 million spike in the annual pension payment — from $365.6 million a year to $414.9 million — because estimates of long-term pension debt rose this year from just over $3 billion to $3.34 billion.

Author(s): David Garrick

Publication Date: 17 January 2021

Publication Site: San Diego Union-Tribune

NJ Pension Palaver

Excerpt:

Public employees and their unions are certainly to blame for allowing promises made to not be fully funded,

Those contributions that public employees make are negotiated at levels they have input into (nothing to do with funding benefits honestly); and

What worthwhile programs for New Jerseyans did those tens of billions of dollars in missed payments fund and, if that money was invested wisely, shouldn’t New Jerseyans be reaping some benefits around now? If the money was not invested wisely then why begrudge not having more of it to waste?

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 11 April 2021

Publication Site: Burypensions

The sustainability of state and local government pensions: A public finance approach

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Their findings, however, imply that many state and local governments may be able to spend more than assumed on improving their educational systems and economically important infrastructure.

“Given other demands, fully funding their pension plans might not be the right thing for state and local governments,” Sheiner said in an interview with The Brookings Institution. “They should compare the benefits of upping their pension investments with the benefits of investing in their people.”

Author(s): Jamie Lenney, Byron Lutz, Finn Schüle, Louise Sheiner

Publication Date: 24 March 2021

Publication Site: Brookings

Vermont lawmakers seek pension reforms to stem funding shortfalls

Link: https://www.pionline.com/pension-funds/vermont-lawmakers-seek-pension-reforms-stem-funding-shortfalls

Excerpt:

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.

Author(s): Margarida Correia

Publication Date: 29 March 2021

Publication Site: Pensions & Investments

MoneyPalooza Monstrosity: State and Local Governments Should Pay Down Pension Debt

Link: https://marypatcampbell.substack.com/p/moneypalooza-monstrosity-state-and

Graphic:

Excerpt:

If a state or local government’s public pension funds have large unfunded liabilities, those liabilities accrue at the assumed rate of return on the assets that should have been there to cover that liability.

…..

The point is this: if it makes sense to pay down the pension unfunded liability with muni bonds, thus creating new liabilities and thus new leverage, it makes even more sense to take a “windfall” of cash and pay down the pension debt, which creates no new state/local government liabilities

Author(s): Mary Pat Campbell

Publication Date: 26 March 2021

Publication Site: STUMP on Substack

How to Make the Florida Retirement System Investment Plan an Effective Retirement Plan

Excerpt:

The biggest shortcoming of the FRS IP is the contribution rate. With a total contribution rate of just 6.3 percent (3 percent employee; 3.3 percent employer), the rate is, at best, no more than half of what is generally recognized to be an adequate contribution rate in a defined contribution retirement plan.

A total contribution rate of between 12 percent and 15 percent is accepted as necessary to reasonably meet lifetime income replacement goals when combined with Social Security and personal savings. Any retirement plan with a total contribution rate of just 6.3 percent will fail in achieving its primary goal— to provide a sufficient post-employment benefit.

Author(s): Richard Hiller

Publication Date: 26 March 2021

Publication Site: Reason

NJ Local Pension Bills

Excerpt:

Annual pension contributions from local employers in New Jersey come due next week based on the June 30, 2019 actuarial valuations. The state website only has the breakdown in pdf format but it was easy enough to export the numbers into excel for the PERS and PFRS plans.

Many local employers are also drafting their 2021 budgets so it was interesting to see what one of them (Union County) allocated as pensions costs for 2021.

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 25 March 2021

Publication Site: Burypensions

Voice of the people: Pension problem will have to be addressed at some point

Link: https://www.daily-journal.com/opinion/voice-of-the-people-pension-problem-will-have-to-be-addressed-at-some-point/article_5fc77b16-8e44-11eb-a527-bf430c87768c.html

Excerpt:

I am not personally involved with the success or failure of these pension funds because I am not, nor do I have any family members enrolled, in either of the pensions.

The last report I saw (from 2019?) stated the City of Kankakee taxpayers’ annual funding of the pensions was at or close to $3 million. It would be nice if the “windfall” the city’s representatives receive would take some of the burden off the backs of the taxpayers of the city. Since it wasn’t included in the several ideas of the distribution of this “windfall,” I would hope that it could be. It would be wonderful to have this albatross removed from the necks of the city’s taxpayers.

If all pension providers would have been included in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), this problem would probably not exist. However, US Congress in its usual passing of legislation exempted all governments (federal, state, county and local). The federal law sets minimum standards for most voluntarily established retirement and health plans in private industry to provide protection for individuals in these plans.

Author(s): David Cox

Publication Date: 27 March 2021

Publication Site: Daily Journal of Kankakee, Illinois

Local Control of NJ PERS?

Excerpt:

S3522, which could mean unions will need to expand their corral of bought politicians to those who would control the local part of the New Jersey Public Employee Retirement System (PERS), was introduced yesterday in the legislature apparently to the surprise of a Senate committee that rejected it, according to Politico.

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 23 March 2021

Publication Site: Burypensions