‘We Don’t Have Actuarial Numbers Relative To This Amendment’: Illinois’ Tier 2 Pension In Their Own Words

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2022/02/20/we-dont-have-actuarial-numbers-relative-to-this-amendment-illinois-tier-2-pension-in-their-own-words/

Excerpt:

In Illinois, this resulted in a Blue Ribbon Pension Commission under Gov. Rod Blagojevich, which issued a report in 2005 with some recommendations which were adopted and others which, well, never saw the light of day. As might be guessed, the changes actually implemented were small scale, but included an anti-spiking measure, a reduction in the guaranteed interest rate used to calculate a minimum pension benefit, and a reduction in the categories of state employees eligible for the more generous alternative formula. This legislation, Public Act 94-0004, also required that any new benefit increase henceforth must be paired with a corresponding funding increase, and must sunset after five years (though recall that this didn’t stop the legislature from increasing benefits for Chicago Firefighters or non-Chicago Police and Fire pensions, both of which involve the state dictating benefits and localities funding them).

In recognition of the small nature of these changes and the very large debts still remaining, the bill also created yet another commission, with no effect, and in subsequent years, still more commissions met. In 2009, the Illinois Pension Modernization Task Force held a series of public meetings, but produced no majority-approved report, only a work product with findings and minority reports.

It is in that context that the Illinois Tier 2 pension system came into being — which avid readers will recall is a new set of benefits for public-sector employees in Illinois hired after January 1, 2011, a set of benefits with changes made that “looked good” to legislators at the time but had no actuarial review, and as a result will sooner or later fail the “safe harbor” test, in which state and local public pensions must provide better benefits than Social Security in order to opt out of the Social Security system. And why didn’t the law have an actuarial review? Because it was created behind closed doors — which makes it all the more worthwhile to repeat the exercise of reading the legislative transcripts of the day it was brought to the floor of the Illinois State House and Senate for a vote.

Author(s): Elizabeth Bauer

Publication Date: 20 Feb 2022

Publication Site: Forbes

‘The Pension Bill Has Something For Everybody’: A Look Into How Illinois Lawmakers Justified Their Pension Benefit Boosts

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2022/02/03/the-pension-bill-has-something-for-everybody-a-look-into-how-illinois-lawmakers-justified-their-pension-benefit-boosts/?sh=207f9a5233bb

Excerpt:

In my prior article, I laid out the Illinois General Assembly’s repeated unanimous, near-unanimous or strong bipartisan majority support for a series of bills increasing pension benefits for public employees from 1989 – 2000.

….

With respect to the SERS benefit increase, the Senate debate centers around collective bargaining. As Senator Jones says in the May 31, 1997 transcript, “I think Senator Collins had worked hours, and many hours and years to sponsor this piece of – this legislation so that we can arrive at the point we are today. So I – I stand up gladly and proudly to – to support you in this endeavor, but I think we should know where the real, real support originally came from and how it all came about. And it came about as a result of collective bargaining legislation.” (Again, all transcripts can be viewed online.)

On the House side, there was more discussion. The CGFA’s summary notwithstanding, there were a number of benefit boosts, including a “30 and out” provision. It was explained by Rep. Poe that the bill was “funded” by the fact that during the AFSME contract negotiations, the union accepted a reduced wage increase (relative to what they’d otherwise have demanded) in order to achieve this pension benefit increase, and it was taken on faith that the bill was indeed therefore truly “paid for,” when it ought to simply have been met with incredulity instead.

….

This is, of course, exactly the core of the reason why public sector unions are fundamentally so ripe for abuse, when the individuals who nominally have the role of “employer” gain so much politically from providing these generous benefits.

This brings us to the Teacher’s equivalent and the transcripts of May 21 – 22, 1998. Here the path of the bill was not as simple, as the speaker delayed moving the bill out of the Rules committee.

….

Finally, we have transcripts of the 1989 COLA/pension funding bait-and-switch bill to read. Again recall that this bill was wholly rewritten through negotiations, and presented in its final form on the day it was voted upon, June 30, 1989. 

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“The pension bill has something for everybody, folks. It’s been designed in such a way that everybody’s got something in here.” 

But as Schuneman continues to speak, it is clear that he is cynical about this design and in fact he is concerned about the cost, and he continues talking about the pension debt as the equivalent to paying the minimum payment on a credit card – but gets no traction. The next speakers are far more interested in clarifying the (even more generous) benefit boosts for General Assembly members, and after some side-tracking Jones picks up his “something for everything” point but not with Schuneman’s cynicism but sincerely calling for passage, citing the governor’s support (and with no mention of costs or the funding plan): 

“Sure, there is something in here for everyone. The Office of the Governor came out very strongly for the workers of the State of Illinois and in strong support for the compounding of the increases for State Employees and retirees. So, let’s give me a favorable vote on this bill, and we will do good for the people who work hard for the State of Illinois.”

Author(s): Elizabeth Bauer

Publication Date: 3 Feb 2022

Publication Site: Forbes

The Pension Combine? Illinois’ Public Pension Unfunding Has A Long And Bipartisan History

Link:https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2022/01/30/the-pension-combine-illinois-public-pension-unfunding-has-a-long-and-bipartisan-history/

Excerpt:

Newcomers to the state of Illinois may find it odd to see the word “bipartisan” show up anywhere in reference to Illinois, but they forget that the state’s history includes jailed governors from both political parties.

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Nothing especially persuasive emerges from these studies, except for one: “Polarization and Policy: The Politics of Public-Sector Pensions,” by Sarah Anzia and Terry Moe, published in 2017 at Legislative Studies Quarterly.

Their main argument: before the Great Recession, in those states with un/underfunded pensions, both parties were the cause of the underfunding. Simply put, the public at large simply had no interest in pension funding, but was very much interested in a high level of government services and a low level of taxation. There was therefore no incentive for politicians of either side to fund pensions.

….

And a review of the history of Illinois’ pension funding is a case study in how this pre-Great Recession bipartisan pension funding indifference played out. The whole history was outlined in great detail in a 2014 report by Eric Madiar, who at the time served as Chief Legal Counsel to Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton; while the objective of much of his document is to argue a political point, his history lesson is extremely helpful, and starts with a 1917 report by the Illinois Pension Laws Commission lamenting that pension plans were not being funded and calling for the legislature to begin to fund pensions when benefits are earned. Throughout the 40s, 50s, and 60s, dire reports were issued by similar commissions, to no avail, with the result that the Illinois constitution of 1970 essentially treated the pension protection clause as an alternative to funding pensions.

….

So there you have it: a century-long legacy of unfunded pensions in Illinois.

Author(s): Elizabeth Bauer

Publication Date: 30 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Forbes

Washington State’s Celebrated Long Term Care Program Is Headed Towards Trouble

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2022/01/09/washington-states-celebrated-long-term-care-program-is-headed-towards-trouble/

Excerpt:

A requirement to have paid into the system is characteristic of a social insurance program, and the 10 year contribution requirement is essentially the same as the eligibility requirement for Old Age benefits in Social Security. However, true social insurance programs pay out benefits to those eligible regardless of residence — again, once you’ve paid into Social Security long enough to have earned your benefit, you can collect regardless of where you live, even if you have moved abroad. In fact, even noncitizens who worked in the United States long enough to have accumulated sufficient Social Security credits, can receive benefits after having moved back to their home countries. What’s more, many social insurance systems provide some sort of refund mechanism for workers who do not accumulate enough contribution years to be eligible.

And this hybrid system will likely prove to be unsustainable politically. Even if ordinary Washingtonians are not well-versed in social insurance concepts and theories, it will not sit right with them that those who retire with 10 years of payroll taxes have “earned” their benefits but those with 9 years have not, and, likewise, that those who have “earned” benefits would lose those “earned” benefits merely by moving out of state. How precisely this will play out over the long term remains to be seen, but the new bills are not likely to be the end of the story.

In any case, these problems will not be easy to remedy.

Author(s): Elizabeth Bauer

Publication Date: 9 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Forbes

Revisiting The ‘Retirement Crisis’ And Retirement Legislation In 2022 – What’s In Store In The New Year?

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2021/12/31/revisiting-the-retirement-crisis-and-retirement-legislation-in-2022whats-in-store-in-the-new-year/

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Excerpt:

First, we need to keep a distinction in mind between efforts to ensure the elderly do not suffer actual material deprivation, whether that’s lack of nutritious food or adequate housing or medical needs, for instance, and efforts to help Americans plan for retirement and alleviate their expressed worries about the unknowns of retirement.

Second, issues of well-being, such as social isolation, and larger questions of the “right” form of provision of long-term care assistance, are not simple issues of finances but are nonetheless important as Americans age, and these topics should not be drowned out by a “retirement crisis” narrative. It should also go without saying that we will urgently need to turn our attention to the Medicare system as well.

And, third, in one crucial respect our models may fail us: experts have worked out a set of recommendations for asset allocation and income spend-down in retirement, and a set of projections for building those models, which fall apart if our new low-interest world continues, Japan-like, rather than being a temporary situation that resolves itself as we recover from the pandemic. Whether this is a result of government policies or an inevitable consequence of the changing economy, this could upend both Biggs’ projections of retiree well-being and the path to retirement security envisioned by legislation like the SECURE Act 2.0.

Author(s): Elizabeth Bauer

Publication Date: 31 Dec 2021

Publication Site: Forbes

Who’s Missing From The ‘Build Back Better’ Reconciliation Bill? The Elderly And Disabled Poor

Link:https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2021/10/10/whos-missing-from-the-build-back-better-reconciliation-bill-the-elderly-and-disabled-poor/

Excerpt:

In recent articles, I have lamented poorly designed components of the Reconciliation Bill, from a poorly-designed “free childcare” program to a family leave plan that’s designed to be “free” rather than funded by the workers who benefit, to a Medicare drug benefit that’s planned to be implemented at the same time as Part A Medicare is facing insolvency, to a mandate that employers provide retirement plan access that leaves virtually all of the specifics up to a bureaucratic agency. And this just scratches at the surface of the expansive programs on tap if the bill is passed as currently drafted. But there’s one piece of legislation that advocates have been calling for, for years, which didn’t make the cut: an increase in the benefits for the poorest of the poor elderly and disabled who receive Supplemental Security Income, or SSI.

…..

So why didn’t SSI make the cut, when the Democrats compiled their list of programs for the “American Family Plan”? Do some of these changes go too far, increase benefits too much? Did they want to avoid opening up a can of worms with respect to larger plan design issues with the system, for example, concerns that the children’s benefits have become an “alternative welfare system” providing benefits for children equal to those for adults, even with mild conditions such as ADHD, that mean no one wants to touch the system?

Or does an enhancement of SSI benefits simply fail to meet the Democrats’ objective of making voters happy with broad outlays of cash benefitting the middle class as well as the poor?

Author(s): Elizabeth Bauer

Publication Date: 10 Oct 2021

Publication Site: Forbes

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/

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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

How Will The Biden Medicare Dental Plan Affect The Trust Fund Solvency?

Link:https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2021/09/20/how-will-the-biden-medicare-dental-plan-affect-the-trust-fund-solvency/

Excerpt:

Among the changes coming if the Democrats succeed in their $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill would be the inclusion of dental, vision, and hearing coverage through Medicare, possibly in 3 – 5 years due to implementation challenges, and with suggestions of a voucher/cash payout in the meantime. There is not yet an official cost estimate as the details are still being negotiated, but a similar proposal in 2019 would have cost $358 billion over 10 years.

At the same time, late last month, the latest Trustees’ Report for Medicare determined that the Medicare Part A Trust Fund will be exhausted in the year 2026, which, if you do the math, is a mere five years from now. At that point, Medicare would have to cut reimbursement rates for doctors by 9%, increasing to 20% in 2045, or even more if the report’s assumptions don’t pan out.

How will the new dental benefits — assuming they remain in the bill — affect Medicare Part A and its trust fund? Strictly speaking, not at all. The new benefits would be a part of Part B of the program, that is, doctors’ charges, rather than Part A, which covers hospital charges. In one respect, it would be its own benefit structure entirely, since, unlike “regular Part B” Medicare, the proposal would have the federal government pay 100% of the benefit’s costs, rather than requiring participants to pay a 25% cost-share premium. It would, in a way, become Medicare Part E.

Author(s): Elizabeth Bauer

Publication Date: 20 Sept 2021

Publication Site: Forbes

Mismanagement Compounding Underfunding: The Chicago Police Pension Forensic Audit

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2021/09/06/mismanagement-compounding-underfunding-the-chicago-police-pension-forensic-audit/

Excerpt:

It is reasonably well-known that the pension plan has been underfunded for years, and that the state, in setting a new funding plan, allowed a “funding ramp” in 2011 and then re-set that ramp in 2016, so that funding according to the “90% funded by 2055” target only began in 2020. However, Tobe alleges that “Chicago has consistently underfunded the plan more than the statutory amount, blatantly breaking the law, with no consequences.”

Regarding fees and management, Tobe alleges that the pension fund has “failed to monitor and fully disclose investment fees and expenses” and that “fees and expenses could be 10 times that which they disclose” because the fund’s disclosure “omits dozens of managers and their fees.” He also reports that the Fund claimed that “hundreds of contracts for the investment managers” are exempt from FOIA, and denied him access to the fund’s own analysis of fees. He concludes that “PABF may have over 100 ‘ghost managers’ in funds of funds,” that is, the fund is required to disclose its managers but it fails to do so, even though Tobe has identified them through other sources.

…..

With respect to governance, the fund violates a fundamental aspect of prudent governance because its Chief Investment Officer is not a professional with qualification in the field, but simply a trustee and active-duty policeman, and, what’s more, one who has “22 allegations of misconduct as a police officer including one for bribery/official corruption.” Further, no staff members hold the credential of a CFA charter, another marker of professionalism. Another related governance issue is the use of offshore investments, e.g., in the Cayman Islands, which lack key governance and transparency protections of US-based funds.

Author(s): Elizabeth Bauer

Publication Date: 6 September 2021

Publication Site: Forbes

More Than An Insolvency Date: What Else To Know About The Social Security And Medicare Trustees’ Reports

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2021/09/01/more-than-an-insolvency-date-what-else-to-know-about-the-social-security-and-medicare-trustees-reports/

Excerpt:

This year, Social Security’s deficit is unusually high due to lower revenues and higher benefits: 1.75%. In 2040, the deficit climbs to 3.70% rather than 3.54%. In 2080, the deficit stands at 4.87% rather than 4.59%.

Put another way, if there were no Trust Fund accounting mechanism now, the OASI program would have been able to pay 93% of benefits. This would drop to 76% in 2035 – 2040 – 2045, then drop further to being able to pay 70% of benefits.

What’s more, this year, the actuaries changed several assumptions. They assume that by the year 2036, fertility rates will increase to 2.00 children per woman, an increase from the 2020 report’s assumption of 1.95. They also assume a long-term unemployment rate of 4.5% rather than 5%. At the same time, they calculate alternate projections with more pessimistic assumptions, including a continuingly low fertility rate (1.69), a higher rate of mortality improvement (that is, longer-lived recipients), a higher rate of unemployment (5.5%), and others. In these alternate calculations, the 2040 deficit becomes 6.47% rather than 3.7% (benefits 64% payable), and the 2080 deficit becomes 12.39% rather than 4.87% (benefits 50% payable).

Also consider that, at the moment, there are 2.7 workers for each Social Security recipient (2.8 in 2020). This is forecast to drop to 2.2 in 2040 and ultimately down to 2.1. But if the population trends are those of the pessimistic scenario, then that 2.1 would drop to 1.5 by the year 2080.

Author(s): Elizabeth Bauer

Publication Date: 1 September 2021

Publication Site: Forbes

The Massachusetts ‘Essential Worker’ Pension Boost Proposal Is A Case Study In Public Pension Failures

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2021/08/19/the-massachusetts-essential-worker-pension-boost-proposal-is-a-case-study-in-public-pension-failures/

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Excerpt:

The text of the bill, H. 2808/S. 1669, is brief. All employees of the state, its political subdivisions, and its public colleges and universities, a bonus of three years “added to age or years of service or a combination thereof for the purpose of calculating a retirement benefit,” if, at any point between March 10, 2020 and December 21, 2020, they had “volunteered to work or who [had] been required to work at their respective worksites or any other worksite outside of their personal residence.”

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In subsequent reporting, government watchdog group The Pioneer Institute voiced its opposition. In a statement posted on their website, they criticized the broad coverage — acting as an unfunded mandate for municipalities, including workers even if they had worked outside their home for a single day, encompassing both blue collar and white collar workers. They estimate the bill’s cost at “in the billions of dollars” and point to a massive boost even for a single individual, the president of the University of Massachusetts, whose lifetime pension benefit would increase by $790,750.

…..

And left out of Zlotnik’s proposal is a recognition that the state’s main retirement fund is 64% funded, and the teachers’ fund, 52%, as of 2019.

Author(s): Elizabeth Bauer

Publication Date: 19 August 2021

Publication Site: Forbes

Do You Get Your Money’s Worth From Buying An Annuity?

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2021/07/08/do-you-get-your-moneys-worth-from-buying-an-annuity/?sh=380f33612082&fbclid=IwAR1dlxEjlWlmPSetMplHWU6BdPjzzo7ju983c73QKr5KKKn29PjurCq_YmA

Excerpt:

But measuring the value of annuities, generally speaking, does tell us whether consumers are getting a fair deal from their purchases, and here, a recent working paper by two economists, James Poterba and Adam Solomon, “Discount Rates, Mortality Projections, and Money’s Worth Calculations for US Individual Annuities,” lends some insight.

Here’s some good news: using the costs of actual annuities available for consumers to purchase in June 2020, and comparing them to bond rates which were similar to the investment portfolios those insurance companies hold, the authors calculated “money’s worth ratios” that show that, for annuities purchased immediately at retirement, the value of the annuities was between 92% – 94% (give-or-take, depending on type) of its cost. That means that the value of the insurance protection is a comparatively modest 6 – 8% of the total investment.

But there’s a catch — or, rather, two of them.

In the first place, the authors calculate their ratios based on a standard mortality table for annuity purchasers — which makes sense if the goal is to judge the “fairness” of an annuity for the healthy retirees most likely to purchase one. But this doesn’t tell us whether an annuity is a smart purchase for someone who thinks of themselves as being in comparatively poorer health, or with a spottier family health history, and folks in these categories would benefit considerably from analysis that’s targeted at them, that evaluates, realistically, whether annuities are the right call and whether their prediction of their life expectancy is likely to be right or wrong.

Author(s): Elizabeth Bauer

Publication Date: 9 July 2021

Publication Site: Forbes