A new study published by Pioneer Institute finds that issuing pension obligation bonds (POBs) to refinance $360 million of the MBTA Retirement Fund’s (MBTARF’s) $1.3 billion unfunded pension liability would only compound the T’s already serious financial risks.
With POBs, government entities deposit revenues from bond sales into their pension funds and use the money to make investments they hope will deliver returns that outpace borrowing costs.
“Virtually every study of POBs finds that timing and duration of the bond issues are critical,” said E.J. McMahon, author of “Rolling the Retirement Dice.” “Bonds floated at the end of a bull market are the most likely to lose money, and that makes this idea a wrong turn at the worst possible time.”
If investments don’t meet a pension fund’s assumed rate of return, it could be left with debt service costs in addition to the pre-existing unfunded liability. In 2015, the Government Finance Officers Association bluntly warned that “State and local governments should not issue POBs.” It reaffirmed its guidance last year.
And it doesn’t apply just to state and municipal workers who had to actually go into work during the pandemic; they must only have “volunteered to work… at their respective worksites or any worksite outside of their personal residence.” Employees who went in for a single day would also qualify. So do employees who worked from home but one day when the internet was down went to a family member’s home to work. (They meet the provision that you did your job from a “worksite outside of [your] personal residence.”)
Administrators, accountants, techies, teachers, finance officers, grant writers, trash collectors and all those paid with public dollars are potentially in line for the benefit. As currently written, state legislators are eligible to take advantage of the bill. More than half of the Legislature has signed on to H.2808. Support spans the political spectrum. The bill may provide a jump in pension benefits for those employed during the pandemic who have already retired.
Pioneer estimates that the bill’s cost would be in the billions of dollars. As of this May, the state pension fund, state Teachers’ Retirement System and the Boston Teachers Retirement system were underfunded by a combined $44 billion. Annual payments to the systems are scheduled to rise from the current $3.1 billion to nearly $12.4 billion over the next 15 years, and would be even higher under H.2808. The bill would also further burden over 100 local pension funds in the Commonwealth, many of which are already woefully underfunded.
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.
COVID-19 vaccination, particularly the disparity of rates between racial and ethnic groups, takes up much of the current talk about the pandemic. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) publishes vaccination data every day, for municipalities, tracking rates by age group, racial and ethnic groups, and by gender.
Pioneer is proud to present a new vaccine tracker, the newest tool in our COVID-19 tracking project. Pioneer distilled the vaccination data down to those who are either fully vaccinated or partially vaccinated, by all the demographic categories published by the DPH. Use the new tool below to compare rates among groups, by municipality and by county. We will update the data every week.
“Professor Young’s wealth migration analyses don’t capture the full breadth of tax flight by million-dollar earners,” said Andrew Mikula, co-author of “Missing the Mark on Wealth Migration: Past Studies Drastically Undercounted Millionaires.” “High-net worth households that do financial planning could move to another state before they sell million-dollar assets. They fly under the radar in Cristobal Young’s work because most of them don’t earn more than $1 million in the year before they leave.”
The graduated income tax proposal advanced by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Service Employees International Union, and other union, advocacy, and religious groups, defines earnings as including salary and capital gains on the sale of assets, which makes net worth a critical component of households subject to the tax.
Massachusetts state government employment has been virtually flat during COVID-19 even as employment in the state’s private sector workforce remains nearly 10 percent below pre-pandemic levels, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute. The study, “Public vs. Private Employment in Massachusetts: A Tale of Two Pandemics,” questions whether it makes sense to shield public agencies from last year’s recession at the expense of taxpayers.
“Compared to restaurants, retailers and other businesses, there was very little pressure on state government to cut costs associated with COVID’s economic fallout,” said Serena Hajjar, who authored the study. “The private sector has felt the bulk of the pain of this contraction.”
At one point in April 2020, total employment in Massachusetts was 23 percent below pre-pandemic levels, while at the same time state-level government employment was higher than it was in February 2020.
Job losses during the coronavirus pandemic disproportionately hit the private sector workforce in Massachusetts, according to a Pioneer Institute report being released Monday.
The report found the state government payroll has been flat throughout the pandemic, while the private sector workforce remains 10 percent below its pre-pandemic level. At the peak of job cuts last April, the state’s overall unemployment rate was 23 percent, even as state government employment rose higher than it had been in February 2020.
“Compared to restaurants, retailers and other businesses, there was very little pressure on state government to cut costs associated with COVID’s economic fallout,” said Serena Hajjar, who authored the study for the conservative think tank. “The private sector has felt the bulk of the pain of this contraction.”
Both employers and households will find it easier to leave major job centers as technologies made commonplace by the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a rethinking of the geography of work, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.
The study draws on survey data projecting that a third of workers could be permanent telecommuters by the end of 2021 and discusses implications of these trends for transportation, municipal finance, and wealth migration. While worst-case scenarios could bring a level of disinvestment in places like New York City not seen since the 1970s, even a mid-range scenario suggests a significant relocation of jobs and potentially wealth.