The Illinois legislature ended its regular legislative session on May 31, in a flurry of legislation passed late into the night. One of those bills was a set of changes to the 30% funded pension plan of the Chicago Park District. Were these changes long-over due reforms, or just another in the long line of legislative failures? It’s time for another edition of “more that you ever wanted to know about an underfunded public pension plan,” because this plan illustrates a number of actuarial lessons.
80% is not OK. Governance – who gets to set the contributions? Funded status can collapse very quickly and be very difficult to rebuild. Need to use actuarial analysis not just legislator’s brainstorms
For a relatively small number of decedents, this plan could run headlong into Biden’s promise to not raise taxes on those with incomes below $400,000. Of course, the vast majority of decedents will have unrealized gains of far less than $1 million. Indeed, most will leave entire estates far below that threshold. Among people over 70, about 83 percent live in a household with total net worth of less than $1 million.
But some people with large unrealized gains will have been living on relatively low incomes. Imagine someone who is retired and living on Social Security, a modest pension, and some savings. But they still are holding that Microsoft stock they bought in 1987.
When it comes down to it, I’ll suggest to readers that they don’t really believe that it matters. And with the Biden administration’s 2022 budget proposal comes a fairly strong indication that this is their point of view as well, that they expect, when the Trust Fund well comes dry, to simply tap general federal revenues for the necessary funds, in exactly the same manner as is done for Parts B (doctors) and D (drugs).
This single sentence makes it clear that’s not the case: the only premiums paid by Medicare recipients are partial-cost payments for Parts B and D. For Part B, this is 25% of the cost for most retirees; for those with income above $85,000/$170,000 single/married, premiums are higher, reaching as much as 85% of the total cost for the highest earners. For Part D, the premium is set to cover 25.5% of the standard drug benefit, plus any extra costs charged by particular private providers for enhanced benefit levels, and an extra flat charge for higher earners. The remaining cost, 75% of Part B and 74.5% of Part D, is funded by the federal government through its general revenues.
The Chicago Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund (PABF) —commonly referred to as the Chicago Police Pension Fund—is one of the worst funded public pension plans in the United States today, with a funding ratio of only 23 percent.
A group of retired and disabled officers, along with widows, has long questioned the trustees and management of the struggling pension. Dissatisfied with the responses they received, the group formed the CPD Pension Board Accountability Group.
Funds were raised to commission an independent forensic audit of the pension and an expert in pensions was retained recently to conduct the review. As Forbes readers will recall, in my recent book, Who Stole My Pension?, I encourage pension stakeholders to band together to fund independent forensic investigations by pension experts of their own choosing—to get a second opinion as to whether the pension fiduciaries and Wall Street “helpers” they have hired to manage investments are doing a good job.
Forensic investigations in Rhode Island, North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio reveal that gambling 30 percent or more on high-cost, high-risk, secretive alternative investments has exposed pensions to massively greater risks and reduced net returns. The time is ripe for legislators, regulators, and law enforcement to act to stop the looting.
A recent New York Times NYT-3% article revealed that putting more than half of the $62 billion Pennsylvania state teachers’ retirement fund’s assets into risky alternative investments hadn’t worked out well for the pension and had spurred an investigation by the FBI. The FBI is investigating reporting fraud—returns allegedly falsified to avoid increased worker contributions to the pension.
Law enforcement investigations into public pension funds that lie about their returns are long, long overdue.
The first round of aid for state and local governments is set to go out next week, but with no guidance yet on the spending rules, leaders are becoming increasingly frustrated.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) included $350 billion in direct aid to states and localities and the law requires the U.S. Department of Treasury to distribute the first tranche by May 10. Since it passed on March 11, the department has been developing guidance on the spending rules with input from government organizations. The ARPA law says governments can use the money for public health crisis expenses and for budget deficits, but more specifics are needed because governments are required to track and report on their spending.
Now, with just days to go until the first round of aid is to be delivered, the rules still aren’t out and frustrations are mounting. This is particularly true for those governments who are receiving direct federal aid for the first time since the pandemic began.
Mayors in blue states are lining up with Democrats in Congress to pressure the White House into restoring a tax break that was significantly reduced by former President Trump’s tax reform.
On Wednesday, Rep. Thomas Suozzi (N.Y.) joined officials from Albany; Columbia, S.C.; Philadelphia and San Diego to call for a repeal of the rule that limits state and local tax (SALT) deductions. They are calling for President Biden’s $3 trillion infrastructure proposal to include the repeal.
“No SALT, no deal,” Suozzi said on a conference call hosted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
First, as I referenced in passing in my prior column, the long-lasting nature of infrastructure is what justifies paying for it over time. This proposal’s spending is meant to be accomplished over 8 years, with the tax increase funding it over 15 years. That could be justifiable for some types of infrastructure, when it is something new rather than ongoing maintenance, but is not at all appropriate for ongoing day-to-day spending.
In late 2020, Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP), which invests $170 billion worth of pensions belonging to federal government employees like public service workers and employees, bought over 600,000 shares of US private prison companies GEO GEO-1% Group and CoreCivic. According to a February 12th 2021 report filed with the SEC, that totaled about $4.7 million to the companies who have been found to be key players in family separation and continued detainment of migrants suffering from Covid-19.
On March 15th, however, the public learned that PSP pledged to fully divest from the industry amidst public pressure — a financial blow to two companies who have already lost financial support and credibility from major bank financers over the past few years. This announcement by PSP adds them to the list of pension funds who have made an explicit commitment to no longer fund private prisons; joining New York City’s public pension system, The Philadelphia Board of Pensions Retirement, New Mexico Teachers’ Pension Fund, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, and many more who have also taken a stand against the industry.
New Hampshire and Massachusetts are fighting over whether the Bay State still has the right to tax the incomes of 103,000 former commuters now working from home in New Hampshire. But this tax spat deals with issues that spread far beyond the Massachusetts border — it has national implications and could impact millions of Americans.
Because of this, scores of tax organizations and states have filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Granite State. In fact, an analysis by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation estimated at least 2.1 million Americans that previously crossed state lines for work are now working from home in accordance with public health guidelines.
The multiemployer pension crisis was not caused by poor decisions by the pension funds. Factors out of their control: recessions, government decisions, industry deregulation (trucking for example) and quirks in the pension regulation law, ERISA are responsible. Some, including the New York Times blame the pension actuaries for high rates of return assumptions, but for most of their existence, the plans were much more conservatively run than high-flying single corporate plans.
Because of deregulation, bankruptcies of major carriers, and the 8-year policy of the George W. Bush administration to avoid contracting with union carriers, the Central States pension fund did not have enough money to pay Jack. The 2007 financial crash, caused by inadequate government regulation, and the Pandemic recession, further accelerated the expenses in Jack’s pension fund, one of the largest multiemployer plans.
Government regulation also did not move fast enough. Unlike single employer plans where ERISA encourages the PBGC to step in and take over the plans before the sponsors end up in bankruptcy there is no pre-crises help from the government agency, the PBGC, for multiemployer plans. Not acting quickly the aid needed soared. If the aid came 12 years ago the expense would have been much smaller about $10 billion.