Sagging Stocks Aren’t the Only Threat to Pension Plans

Link:https://www.governing.com/finance/sagging-stocks-arent-the-only-threat-to-pension-plans

Excerpt:

You need money to make money, and the programs long in trouble didn’t have enough assets on hand to take full advantage of a banner year. Say your plan started 2021 with a funding level of 80 percent (meaning you had enough assets to cover 80 percent of your anticipated liabilities). With a 30 percent return, your plan would then be 104 percent funded. But if you only started with a 30 percent funding level, the same percentage gain would bump you up only to 39 percent funded.

“The problem of a deeply underfunded plan is that they don’t have a lot of assets, so big returns aren’t as helpful to them,” says Donald Boyd, co-director of the Project on State and Local Government Finance at the University at Albany. “They’ve still got a huge way to go.”

….

Maintaining discipline has been hard. When pension plans have a good year, as in 2021, there’s a temptation for legislators to skip contributions. This would be akin to an individual seeing her retirement account gain $10,000 and figuring she can skip that year’s $5,000 contribution.

The problem is that you have to maximize your gains in good years, not fritter them away, because inevitably you’re going to have to make up for bad years at some point. “When politicians have a lot of money around, they tend not to put it in the fund,” says the Urban Institute’s Johnson. “When things are bad, they kick the burden down the road and let future taxpayers worry about it.”

Author(s): Alan Greenblatt

Publication Date: 25 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Governing

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

Illinois downstate/suburban public safety pension gap increases

Link: https://fixedincome.fidelity.com/ftgw/fi/FINewsArticle?id=202112211317SM______BNDBUYER_0000017d-ddd5-d418-a97d-fffffcde0000_110.1#new_tab

Excerpt:

The unfunded liabilities of Illinois? suburban and downstate public safety pensions rose to $13 billion in the last year of compiled results reported to the state, continuing a 29-year climb that underscores the deep strains on local government budgets.

The unfunded tab for the 295 firefighter funds and 352 police funds outside of Chicago grew to $13 billion in fiscal 2019 from $12.3 billion in 2018 and $11.5 billion in 2017. Police accounted for $7.5 billion of the total and firefighters for $5.5 billion, according to a new report from the state legislature?s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

The rising tab could help the Illinois Municipal League?s case in arguing for lawmakers during their 2022 session to loosen funding requirements.

The League wants a re-amortization of the funding schedule that would extend the target date for achieving 90% funding beyond fiscal 2040, and lower the funding target to 80% from 90%. While both would ease the burdens on governments market participants have warned they are Band-Aid fixes that don?t solve the underlying funding strains.

Author(s): Yvette Shields

Publication Date: 21 Dec 2021

Publication Site: Fidelity Fixed Income

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

Illinois reaches funding milestone with its second-largest pension fund

Link:https://capitolfax.com/2022/01/13/illinois-reaches-funding-milestone-with-its-second-largest-pension-fund/

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Excerpt:

* The State Actuary issued a report on December 22nd entitled “Actuarial Assumptions and Valuations of the State-Funded Retirement Systems.” Yeah, I didn’t read it, either.

But one of my very smart readers did go through it and reached out to me yesterday…

Hi Rich,

Long time follower, first time writer. In full disclosure, I recently retired from the [redacted] after more than [redacted] years. I just read the COGFA article today and was encouraged about the State’s finances yet again.

Another report that came out in late December that received no coverage was the State Actuary Report (see link below). The unheralded news in this report was that there were several State pension systems that passed the “Tread Water” point in FY21; meaning we are now paying in more than we owe and reducing the liability for those systems.

Author(s): Rich Miller

Publication Date: 13 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Capitol Fax

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

Graphic:

Excerpt:

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

City of Newport Beach Urges Greater Sustainability in State Pension Fund, Aims to Pay CalPERS Debt by 2030

Link:https://www.newportbeachindy.com/city-of-newport-beach-urges-greater-sustainability-in-state-pension-fund-aims-to-pay-calpers-debt-by-2030/

Excerpt:

Newport Beach City officials are advocating for policies aimed at increasing long-term sustainability in the state public employee pension fund, CalPERS, as Newport Beach continues to make significant progress in paying down its debt obligations to the system.

On November 16, the CalPERS Board of Administration decided to maintain the fund’s discount rate, or the expected rate of return of the pension fund investments, at the current 6.8 percent. The discount rate had been lowered from 7.0 percent to 6.8 percent in July through CalPERS’ Funding Risk Mitigation Policy, which automatically lowers the discount rate in years when investment returns are above the assumed rate of return. Prior to the recent discount rate change, Newport Beach had asked CalPERS to lower its discount rate to 6.5 percent or below, a more conservative number that could help further reduce future risk.

….

Newport Beach expects to eliminate its unfunded liability by 2030, thanks to an aggressive payment schedule. Beginning in 2018, the City Council decided to increase annual payments to $35 million a year, $9 million more than required. This fiscal year, for the second year in a row, the City will contribute $5 million more as an additional, discretionary payment, bringing the total contribution to $40 million.

Publication Date: 29 Nov 2021

Publication Site: Newport Beach Independent

Municipal Budgets 2021 (4) Pension Contributions

Link:https://burypensions.wordpress.com/2021/11/17/municipal-budgets-2021-4-pension-contributions/

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Excerpt:

Over at countywatchers I have a series comparing 2021 budget items for the municipalities in Union County and part 4 relates to this blog so here it is.

Comparing pension records to 2021 budget allocations that municipalities in Union County made for their contributions to the New Jersey Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) and Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) shows that, on average, PERS and PFRS contributions made up 8.17% of total budgets, representing $170 per resident. The average contribution as a percentage of a participant’s salary came to 25.03% with $19,942 as the average contribution per participant.

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 17 Nov 2021

Publication Site: burypensions

Retirement Debt Eating Up State Funding to Louisiana Schools

Link:https://www.bizneworleans.com/retirement-debt-eating-up-state-funding-to-louisiana-schools/

Excerpt:

Nearly $1 of every $4 in state aid sent annually to Louisiana’s public schools disappears before it reaches classrooms, siphoned away to pay retirement obligations that cost $853 million a year, according to a new report from the legislative auditor.

The retirement debt payment amounts to $1,302 per student and swallows an average of 10% in the total funding available for schools from state, local and other sources, according to the 44-page review from Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack’s office.

The Advocate reports the audit said the Louisiana Legislature might want to consider revamping how the retirement debt for former teachers is handled in a way “that could be less burdensome for participating schools.”

State aid for public schools totaled $3.9 billion for the 2019-20 budget year reviewed by auditors. The teacher debt obligation grabbed 24% of that allocation, the report says. A total of 1,355 traditional and charter schools take part in the retirement system.

Author(s): Associated Press

Publication Date: 24 Oct 2021

Publication Site: Biz New Orleans

No, Lightfoot’s Chicago Budget Does Not Make An ‘Actuarial’ Pension Contribution

Link:https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2021/10/10/no-lightfoots-chicago-budget-does-not-make-an-actuarial-pension-contribution/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Now, what she identifies as an “accomplishment,” having finished the climb up the pension ramp, is actually a state law that left her no choice in the matter. But that’s not the only incorrect part of her statement. Even having finally left the ramp behind, the plans are not funded on an “actuarially determined basis.” They are funded based on the Illinois legislature’s decision of a funding schedule which, for the police and fire plans, is sufficient to attain 90% funding in the year 2055, and for the Municipal and Laborers’ plan, not until 2058. Yes, if you do the math, that’s 34 and 37 years from now.

In fact, the plans’ actuarial valuations calculate a figure that’s labelled the Actuarially Determined Contribution. For the Fire plan (19% funded), the city’s contribution was only 79% of the ADC; for the Police plan (23% funded), the city’s contribution was only 75% of the ADC. And these are the two plans which reached the top of the ramp last year!

Author(s): Elizabeth Bauer

Publication Date: 10 Oct 2021

Publication Site: Forbes

State of Pensions 2021

Link: https://equable.org/state-of-pensions-2021/

Graphic:

Link to PDF report:https://equable.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Equable-Institute_State-of-Pensions-2021_Final.pdf

Excerpt:

State retirement systems in America improved from last year, but are still Fragile. 

This an annual report on the current status of statewide public pension systems, put into a historic context. State and local governments face a wide range of challenges in general – and some of the largest are growing and unpredictable pension costs. The scale and effects of these challenges are best understood by considering the multi-decade financial trends and funding policy decisions that have brought public sector retirement systems to this moment. 

The financial market volatility over the past 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic has ultimately been a positive investment climate for institutional investors like state pension plans. And the federal government has provided substantial financial aid to states and municipalities, smoothing over what could have been seismic budgetary shortfalls in some jurisdictions due to tax revenue declines. The combined historically unprecedented nature of these events continues to create an unpredictable environment for state pension plans. However, in this report Equable uses patterns of behavior from the past two decades as a guide to what might happen in the coming decade while also a means to identify areas of concern that should be monitored closely or acted upon immediately.

Authors: Anthony Randazzo, Jonathan Moody, PhD

Publication Date: Accessed 23 Sept 2021

Publication Site: Equable Institute

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

Graphic:

Excerpt:

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