The city of Providence’s pension fund, which is among the most underfunded in the country, just got one step closer to approving $515 million in pension obligation bonds. A majority of voters cast ballots in favor of the mayor’s proposal to issue $515 million in bonds in a non-binding referendum. While the results do not give Mayor Jorge Elorza the authority to issue the bonds, they do help build his case to the state, whose approval he needs to issue the bonds.
Pension obligation bonds are essentially loans that the pension takes out with a fixed interest rate. The hope is that investment returns exceed the interest rate on the bonds, thus allowing the pension fund to increase its funded ratio. However, a recession or investment downturn could lead to the pension losing money on the bonds. Such was the case in Puerto Rico when it issued pension obligation bonds in 2008. While a total collapse like what occurred in Puerto Rico is unlikely to happen in Providence, according to experts,
Public pensions have more than doubled their borrowing this past year, according to S&P Global. In 2020, the S&P rated $3 billion in public pension bond issuances. In contrast, the S&P rated $6.3 billion in public pension bond issuances between January 1 and September 15, 2021. However, as interest rates begin to rise again, bond issuances will likely decrease again.
Author(s): Anna Gordon
Publication Date: 9 June 2022
Publication Site: ai-CIO
Fewer than 3,600 city voters on Tuesday backed Mayor Jorge Elorza’s proposal to borrow $515 million to shore up Providence’s ailing pension fund, according to unofficial results from the Board of Canvassers.
But even fewer voted against the bond.
In a special election that saw just 4 percent of the Providence’s 124,000 registered voters participate, the $515 million pension obligation bond won approval by a wide margin, with 70 percent supporting the proposal.
The plan still needs to be approved by the state Senate, but Tuesday’s vote dramatically increased the likelihood that Providence will be allowed to borrow $515 million and deposit the proceeds into the retirement system to invest.
Elorza has said the infusion of cash from the bond will allow the city to stabilize its pension fund, which has just 26 percent of the $1.6 billion it needs to pay current and future retirees over the next several decades, according to the city’s financial records.
Publication Date: 7 June 2022
Publication Site: Boston Globe
Providence’s pension crisis has its roots in the late 1980s. That’s when the city’s Retirement Board approved unusually generous compounded cost of living adjustments for more than 2,500 city workers and retirees. Decades later, that move helps explain why there’s a $1.2 billion gap between the pension balance and the amount owed to current and future retirees.
The pension crisis has defied attempted solutions for years. Providence officials say the city has just 22% of the money needed to meet its long-term pension obligations. And the amount of the city budget consumed by the pension is growing 5 percent a year, to about $93 million currently. Without a change, that annual payment will rise to $227 million by 2040.
Mayor Jorge Elorza said these pension costs are unsustainable.
“It’s only a matter of time before they continue to squeeze everything else out of our budget, so that we’re cutting deeper and deeper into the bone,” he said during a recent news conference.
Elorza’s plan involves selling $704 million in pension obligation bonds. The idea is that these bonds could generate enough of a return to boost the pension system’s funding to more than 60 percent.
Author(s): Ian Donnis
Publication Date: 1 June 2021
Publication Site: The Public’s Radio
Governor Dan McKee on Tuesday weighed in on two critical issues facing Providence: shakeups in contract negotiations with the teachers union and Mayor Jorge Elorza’s plan for a pension obligation bond to throw the city a financial lifeline.
On Elorza’s idea for a $704-million pension obligation bond to address the city’s unfunded pension liability, McKee raised skepticism, suggesting the plan is risky and that the timing isn’t right.
“I think it’s rolling the dice,” he said. “And again, I’ll reflect back to the time I was a mayor. I made sure that there was actuaries that supported any decision made in our local pensions including the police pension. I haven’t seen any actuaries that I would rely on. I’m not sure there’s time right now between now and the end of session to do that in a way that I would feel comfortable with.”
Author(s): Amy Russo
Publication Date: 1 June 2021
Publication Site: The Providence Journal