Retired public service workers gathered Monday to urge lawmakers to put more money into state pension funds.
The pension situation in Illinois is often referred to as a crisis because as of June 2021, the unfunded pension liabilities were almost $140 billion, according to a Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability report.
That is money the state has promised to retirees who say they need it to live.
There’s a proposal in this year’s budget to put half a billion dollars toward pension debt on top of the required payments from the state.
Decisions made more than 30 years ago drive challenges. The seeds of the City’s pension problems were sown more than three decades ago when the City promised unsustainable benefit increases to members of the retirement system without funding the associated annual Actuarily Determined Contribution (ADC).2
The severity of the situation makes Providence an outlier. The City of Providence’s Employee Retirement System (ERS) is among the lowest funded pension plans in the nation. Since 1991, the City’s unfunded pension liability increased by more than $1 billion. In addition to the pension liabilities, and over and above the pension shortfall, the City’s retiree health benefits are underfunded by approximately $1.1 billion.3 The unfunded liability of the ERS drives costs to City that outpace revenue growth, limiting investments in other priorities. As of June 30, 2020, the ERS was only 22.2 percent funded.4 Total pension liabilities equated to $8,518 per resident – of which $6,629 is not funded.5 In the last twenty years, the City’s unfunded liability per capita increased by $4,000 per resident.
A coalition of civic leaders is recommending that Providence issue a $500 million bond to address the city’s massive unfunded pension obligation.
“Doing nothing is simply not an option,” the Pension Working Group wrote in a 27-page report issued Monday. The group of public officials, working with business and nonprofit leaders, released its recommendations after six months spent studying the city’s staggering pension liability problem.
Providence’s pension plan is funded at 22%, making it one of the weakest employee retirement systems in the nation. Since 1991, the city’s unfunded liability has grown by more than $1 billion, and that doesn’t include a $1.1 billion shortfall in retiree health benefits.
“Current and future retiree liabilities are unsustainable,” the report states.
The City of Pittsburgh has revised its employee pension program. But whether the moves were prudent remains an open question, concludes an analysis by the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.
It was in December that outgoing Mayor Bill Peduto signed ordinances that eliminated a pension reduction for some city employees, modified the employee contribution rate and extended the number of years that the city will dedicate parking taxes to those pensions.
All this said, new ordinances return and/or add more city employees to the pension plans’ liabilities, increasing them from $87.9 million to $96.9 million, based on an actuarial analysis. And they assume a robust recovery in post-pandemic parking tax revenue to meet the pledged contribution to the pension plans.
But do remember that the 2010 ordinance states that the city’s full faith and credit are pledged to meet the parking tax obligation. “That means other sources of tax or non-tax revenue may be called upon if needed,” Montarti says.
“If the city can reach an 80% funding ratio without the inclusion of the parking tax pledge, then it is possible that the dedication of the revenue to the pensions may end earlier than 2051, based on language in the new ordinances,” he says.
“Why not wait until the pension funding ratio was further into that range or, even better, actually met the level of ‘no distress’ (of 90 percent or above)?” Montarti asks. “What if the stock market underperforms and the city’s pensions lose ground?”
It is Super Bowl time which, for some of us, means that the new 5500 for the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan (EIN 13-6043636) is out and we get a better idea of how much Joe Burrow really has in common with a Cleveland Iron Worker.
At 25.53% funding (a massive decrease from last year) are the actuaries setting up the next play for this plan to be a Hail Mary?