Ken Griffin talks the pension crisis, a once-secret meeting with Pritzker

Link: https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-opinion-ken-griffin-illinois-pension-jb-pritzker-desantis-20220809-jnrzlzbpvbfcnjauz522qcvi4m-story.html?utm_source=Wirepoints+Newsletter&utm_campaign=24f39fc2e0-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_895ee9abf9-24f39fc2e0-22956053

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Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of Citadel, spoke in his Chicago office to Editorial Page Editor Chris Jones on Aug. 2. This transcript has been edited for length.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said you and he met privately and that you agreed to drop your opposition to his graduated tax proposal if he took on pension reform in Illinois. True?

The Illinois pension crisis is rooted in the issue that politicians of the moment are able to make promises to the public sector workers, where the cost of those promises are borne by taxpayers, far into the future. So we have an intrinsic lack of accountability within the state when it comes to that dynamic between the leaders in Springfield and the public sector unions. (Former Gov.) Bruce Rauner and I actually would speak about this problem from time to time because it’s pretty well known that Bruce felt the state should move to a defined contribution program for the state employees.

And there are elements of that I think are attractive, but because the state employees do not participate in Social Security, a strictly defined contribution proposal leaves the state employee, in my opinion, at undue risk of adverse events if they do not invest their money successfully. … And there’s another issue, which is that the costs of the promises made by cities and counties are not borne by the cities and counties directly, they’re socialized across the entire taxpayer base of the state. So it’s pretty easy for the behavior of a number of Illinois cities to offer incredible increases in pay in final years to boost pension benefits, and that cost comes back to all Illinois taxpayers.

So these are some of the areas in which the average man in the street is really being handed a very significant bill. And the most tragic part of this whole story is that when the state hires people early in their careers, they’re not even placing that much value on these pension plans.

Twenty-two-year-olds don’t make lifetime career decisions on pension benefits. So, from my perspective, as a state we’re much better off having higher starting salaries to attract really good people to serve in the public sector. And, as with Bruce, my advice to the governor was consistently that either the state should mirror the benefits of Social Security as a baseline or, even better, go back to the federal government and get into Social Security again. We should reverse our opt-out from decades ago. And then to the extent that a city wants to offer benefits in excess of the Social Security baseline amount, that’s pay-as-you-go through a 401(k)-equivalent program. …

The proposal that I gave to J.B. to solve the state’s pension problems is exactly what I just shared with you. … It would, in all likelihood, require us to amend the constitution for the state to head in this direction. It might be for new employees only. I’m very sensitive to a promise made and earned. That’s your benefit. That’s a very different talking point than you’re 22 years old and it’s your first day working for the state.

But, big picture, we get the state into a program that looks like what I just described. And it’s gonna accelerate, in all likelihood, the costs of the current system. It may require revenue increases.

And like many of the business leaders in this city, I was very direct. I said, “If you’re willing to engage in pension reform, I’m willing to publicly support you in a tax increase.” It wasn’t graduated versus not graduated. It was just a tax increase.

I would’ve assumed that this meeting would’ve been private for the rest of my life until J.B. decided to open the door and talk about this. What he did talk about in terms of fiscal reform for the state was to restructure the state’s (information technology) budget.

And he felt he could achieve $50 million in budget savings for the state of Illinois by taking an ax toward our IT budget for the state, and that was going to be his victory lap for fiscal discipline in the state of Illinois. Here we have a multibillion-dollar problem on the left and 50 million (dollars) on the right. I was like, “J.B., we’re not having the same conversation here.”

To be clear, that was a fracturing moment between the two of us. … He does not want to use his political capital for good. He wants to maintain that capital to maintain the certainty of staying in power.

Author(s): Chris Jones

Publication Date: 10 Aug 2022

Publication Site: Chicago Tribune

Examining the Teachers Retirement System of Texas after the pension reforms of 2019

Link: https://reason.org/backgrounder/reason-review-trs-after-sb12/

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TRS currently uses a 7.25% assumed rate of return, which is on the higher end of investment return assumptions among major public systems.

The national average expected rate of return has fallen to 7.0% over the years, with major plans like CalPERS now lowering assumptions into the 6-7% range.

Despite SB12 (2019), with investment returns expected to underperform over the next decade relative to expectations, capping contribution rates in statute creates the perfect conditions for unfunded liabilities to keep accruing just as they have since 2001.

Author(s): Leonard Gilroy, Steven Gassenberger

Publication Date: 3 June 2022

Publication Site: Reason

Jacksonville’s public pension reform helps the city get an improved credit rating

Link: https://reason.org/commentary/jacksonvilles-public-pension-reform-helps-the-city-get-an-improved-credit-rating/

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The city of Jacksonville is about to enjoy the benefits of a credit rating boost. Moody’s Investors Service moved the Florida city’s credit rating to Aa2 from Aa3, citing pension reform among the main reasons for the upgrade. The credit rating increase will allow the state to borrow funds at a lower interest rate and invest in more infrastructure and public services. 

Five years ago, the Jacksonville City Council approved a pension reform package while enacting innovative changes, reducing debt by more than $585 million and adding over $155 million to pension reserves. A key element of the pension reform that led to reduced debt was closing the city’s three pension plans to new public employees in 2017. Since that change was put in place, over $715 million has been used to grow Jacksonville’s economy and invest in public services for its population. In addition, credit rating agencies, such as Moody’s, assign “grades” to governments’ ability and willingness to service their bond obligations, taking into consideration the jurisdiction’s economic situation and fiscal management. Since the pension reform reduced budgetary pressure, it improved the chances of the city getting a credit upgrade. 

Author(s): Jen Sidorova

Publication Date: 1 Jun 2022

Publication Site: Reason

ILLINOIS FORWARD 2023: ONLY PENSION, BUDGET REFORM CAN SAVE TAXPAYERS WHEN FEDERAL AID ENDS

Link:https://www.illinoispolicy.org/reports/illinois-forward-2023-only-pension-budget-reform-can-save-taxpayers-when-federal-aid-ends/

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Spending in the state budget actually has increased – significantly – under Gov. J.B. Pritzker relative to baseline expectations in the state budget. Even if lawmakers and the governor make no further increases to spending in the fiscal year 2023 budget, which is unlikely given that Pritzker has proposed spending increases in each February budget address of his term, then total spending during Pritzker’s first term will be up nearly $5 billion, or 3% higher than when he took office.

Author(s): Adam Schuster

Publication Date: accessed 2 Feb 2022

Publication Site: Illinois Policy Institute

Undermining Pension Reform

Link:https://www.city-journal.org/undermining-pension-reform

Excerpt:

The Biden administration is trying to prohibit California from receiving billions of dollars in new federal aid because, the administration claims, the state’s 2013 Public Employee Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) denied workers the right to bargain for changes to their retirement benefits. The move could undermine state-worker pension reforms passed over the last decade.

In a letter to the state, the Department of Labor says that the 2013 pension-reform act “significantly interferes” with the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including transit workers. As a result, California risks losing some $12 billion in transportation money, most of it from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill. The administration is strong-arming the state and its municipalities to choose between tens of billions of dollars in savings for a deeply indebted pension system and grants from Washington. And its move raises serious questions about similar reforms enacted by other states that allow collective bargaining by public employees, including New York and New Jersey.

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The Labor Department’s ruling, California governor Gavin Newsom said in a letter to Walsh, “deprives financially beleaguered California public transit agencies that serve essential workers and our most vulnerable residents of critical support, including American Rescue Plan Act funds that those agencies need to survive through the pandemic.” Newsom called the decision a “complete reversal” from a 2019 ruling by the Labor Department, which held that the state’s pension reforms did not represent a violation of federal law.

Author(s): Steven Malanga

Publication Date: 23 Nov 2021

Publication Site: City Journal