In a September 2, 2021 statement on the police pension’s website it was stated:
“Recently, certain annuitants, without asserting any wrongdoing on the part of the Fund, any Fund employee, or any Board Trustee, past or current, and in fact repeatedly acknowledging no wrongdoing or fraudulent conduct has occurred, have demanded the Board contract with another entity to conduct a desired independent forensic audit. The purpose of a forensic audit is in substance to conduct an investigation as a means of discovering potential fraud, wrongdoing, or other financial crimes. Given that no legitimate cause for this type of audit exists, it is not a prudent use of Fund resources to engage with an additional auditor to perform a forensic audit.”
According to the report, CPABF is one of the worst funded public pension plans in the U.S. today with a funding ratio at year-end of only 23%. That fact alone merits an independent investigation, in my opinion. And, by the way, forensic investigations of pensions are not necessarily focused upon “potential fraud, wrongdoing or financial crimes.”
State and local government pensions assure workers and retirees that they enjoy the same protections as the comprehensive federal law, ERISA provides to corporate participants. That’s simply not true. Don’t count on state law to protect your retirement security.
It has been said that the Law is a blunt instrument, incapable of dealing with all shades and circumstances, with little or no regard for individual situations.
Even where the most comprehensive legal and regulatory framework exists and answers are crystal-clear, your pension is at risk because enforcement or policing of the law is lacking. I have taught U.S. Department of Labor pension investigators. As trained and committed as they are, they’re hopelessly out-gunned by the investment industry. Wall Street runs circles around regulators charged with enforcing pension laws.
However, the vast majority of pensions are not subject to any comprehensive law.
For example, as hard as it is to believe, explain or justify, the approximately $4 trillion in America’s government pensions is not protected by any comprehensive federal or state law.
Federal unemployment benefits ended this month for millions of Americans and data show that workers in Virginia might feel it the most.
The federal government’s enhanced unemployment benefit added $300 to weekly unemployment checks issued by states and also expanded coverage to the self-employed and freelancers, such as rideshare drivers and musicians. That expansion, called pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) was a lifeline for these gig workers who previously weren’t eligible for any unemployment help.
An analysis I did for the Rockefeller Institute of Government on unemployment benefits given to non-traditional workers shows that the PUA program had the biggest financial impact in Virginia, where those payments accounted for nearly 26% of all unemployment benefits paid in 2020.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
If 40 million Americans were suffering from the same severe problem, you might think it would be the subject of considerable media attention, a host of government programs, infusions of business capital and a hot topic of national conversation.
The PBGC’s decisions here are not what organizations such as the NCCMP would have liked, although, clearly, it is the PBGC’s job to interpret the law, not to try to fix a poorly-written law.
At the same time, no multiemployer pension plan is worse off with this legislation than without it, even if it isn’t as generous as they would have liked. And nothing prohibits those plans from boosting contributions and using additional contributions to fund future accruals — which would mean that pension plans which express their contributions as fixed dollar amounts, rather than a percentage of pay, will be better positioned to provide for existing employees as well as retirees. What’s more, the calculation of future contributions is based on a one-time open group projection, without being revised from year to year, so that, in principle, if more workers join a plan, the plan will be better off. (Of course, if the projection is too optimistic about the number of future workers, the opposite will be true.)
But, of course, this is $86 billion that could have been spent for other needs, or not spent at all. And, however much advocates profess that they still hope for a more comprehensive revision of funding rules for multiemployer pensions, the poorly-conceived nature of this bailout makes it less, rather than more, likely that both sides of the aisle will come together to repair multiemployer pensions and prevent future bailouts.
Colorado recently became the 14th state to enact the new workaround, which allows (or in Connecticut’s case, requires) pass-through businesses to pay state income taxes at the entity level rather than on their personal income tax returns. For small businesses like partnerships, declaring that income as a business instead of passing it through to their individual tax returns means the state taxes paid on that business income don’t count toward their SALT cap.
The new mechanism is called a pass-through entity (PTE) tax, which is exempt from the $10,000 cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction that was part of President Trump’s 2017 tax reform. For business owners in high property tax states like New Jersey and Connecticut, it’s a critical change because it allows those taxpayers to deduct more of their local taxes from their other personal income.
Many of these states targeted staff for these cuts, including implementing hiring freezes, eliminating open positions, cutting salaries and ordering furloughs. They also turned to Medicaid, which saw more than $1 billion in combined cuts from the 12 shortfall states while higher education cuts totaled more than $500 million from the group. Washington State focused its cuts mainly on K-12 education, slashing more than $1 billion from the budget over the past year.
Now, because the pandemic produced higher death rates in 2020 compared to prior years, a period life expectancy calculated for 2020 produced lower life expectancies compared to period life expectancies calculated for prior years. That’s because it’s assumed that the elevated death rates we experienced in 2020 would apply to all future years. But if the death rates decline in 2021, then any period life expectancies calculated for 2021 would most likely be higher. And that’s certainly the hope, given that a large portion of the population has received a vaccine, which is already resulting in a dramatic decline in new infections and hospitalizations.
If you’ve survived the pandemic with your health relatively intact and if you’ve also received the vaccine, then it’s highly likely the virus won’t shorten your lifespan. Of course, new deadly variants or future deadly viruses could change that conclusion, but for now, the outlook is positive.
“Cohort life expectancies” on the other hand, are calculated for a group of people reflecting their characteristics and the experience they might expect over their lifetimes. These life expectancies are calculated in the same way as period life expectancies, except that the death rates used to estimate someone’s remaining future years are modified to reflect anticipated future changes in death rates. If you want to estimate your own remaining lifespan, a cohort life expectancy is often most appropriate.