New Democratic House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch suggested Wednesday that the state should again ask voters to approve a graduated-rate income tax, but this time target the new money toward paying down Illinois’ massive pension debt.
The call for a do-over came after voters in November overwhelmingly rejected Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s graduated income tax proposal. Opponents, including Republicans and business leaders, used distrust of Springfield to argue for keeping the state constitution’s flat tax requirement.
This Report addresses the widespread underfunding of the retirement systems in the nation’s state and local governments. It begins by summarizing some past, current, and probable future trends of unfunded pension liability at the state and local levels. It describes the scope of unfunded pension debt in various state and local jurisdictions and calculates both their aggregate debt and per capita debt, based on states’ self-assessments; it then incorporates a variety of other measurements of unfunded liability. Results from many of those other measures suggest that the magnitude of unfunded pension liability may be considerably larger than previously indicated.
This Report then describes and analyzes the inherent dynamics of government retirement systems that have produced this underfunding, finding that there are a variety of pressures and processes within these retirement systems that can operate to the disadvantage of employees, beneficiaries, and the public generally. It then summarizes attempts to reform pension systems in several states. Some of those states now have relatively sound retirement systems; others less so. It then contrasts the requirements that govern most private-sector pensions to the relatively relaxed regulatory regimes of state and local government pensions, concluding that adoption of rules similar to those governing private sector requirements would likely have positive consequences if implemented for state and local government pension plans and their beneficiaries.
The nation’s experience with unfunded pension liability at the state and local government levels may provide some lessons for policymakers; this Report concludes with several recommendations in this area.
Author(s): Daniel Greenberg: Senior Policy Advisor in the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service; Jay Sirot: Special Assistant in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy
If Pritzker and Welch are serious about winning trust, they’ll allow Illinoisans to vote on a standalone constitutional amendment repealing the so-called “pension protection clause.” To build public support and treat retirees fairly, such an amendment could be narrowly drawn to permit only reductions in future pension increases under the COLA mechanism.
Sure, public employee unions are likely to fight any change in pensions. But it’s worth trying to win their support. It can be done; Arizona unions backed a narrow amendment to a pension protection clause in that state’s constitution. If unions won’t cooperate, Pritzker and Welch should forge ahead anyway, as Rhode Island officials—led by Democrat Gina Raimondo—did in tackling a similar pension crisis.
Only after passing such an amendment and reducing the overall pension obligation can state officials justifiably ask taxpayers for money to close the remaining gap. Would a graduated income tax be the right way to raise the necessary revenue? Maybe. I’m not opposed to it on principle. The vast majority of states with an income tax charge higher rates on higher incomes. And the necessity of a constitutional amendment would give voters the final say.
Warning that it would be “fiscally irresponsible,” Mayor Lyda Krewson on Thursday vetoed a bill that would return supervision of all city Fire Department pensions to a firefighter-controlled board.
The Board of Aldermen earlier this month approved the bill despite warnings from Comptroller Darlene Green, Budget Director Paul Payne and others that the measure would reverse some reforms enacted in 2012 that put a check on the city’s pension liabilities.
Krewson, in her veto message to aldermen, said she shared those concerns.
Gov. Phil Murphy?s call for New Jersey to make its first full pension contribution in 25 years is generating questions about retirement-system overhaul in one of the nation’s lowest-rated states, and how might the capital markets respond.
Murphy on Tuesday revealed the proposal to pay toward pensions roughly $6.4 billion, or about 14% of his $44.8 billion fiscal 2022 budget proposal to lawmakers. Overall spending would rise 10%. Democrat Murphy’s election-year budget would increase aid to schools and provide income-tax rebates to low- and middle-income families.
Making the full actuarially required contribution will need an additional $1.6 billion expense, according to Murphy. New Jersey was initially scheduled to earmark 90% of its full contribution this year under a ramp-up plan.
In a move that will make government-employee pensions less risky for taxpayers, N.C. Treasurer Dale Folwell announced Tuesday, Feb. 2, that the assumed rate of return on the main state retirement plan will be lowered.
Folwell and the Retirement Systems Division said the assumed rate of return for investments in the North Carolina Retirement Systems Fund will be reduced from 7% to 6.5%. The move was unanimously approved by the boards representing teachers, state employees and local government employees on Jan. 28.
Lowering the rate requires greater contributions from state and local governments, but keeps debt from piling up in the long term.
Teachers are upset at the Marin County Board of Education for discussing pension reform in the middle of a pandemic without any feedback from labor unions. The county board considered a resolution last month that calls on state legislators to enact pension reform, proposing several possible solutions—including weakening pensions by reducing benefits and raising the retirement age. Teachers spoke out against the nonbinding resolution, which was tabled in response to their concerns.
School districts and employees have no say in how much they pay. At Shoreline, about 10 percent of the general fund is paid to retirement funds.
The required contribution from districts has steadily risen following the passage of A.B. 1469, which was intended to fully fund CalSTRS. When the bill passed in 2014, the state required districts to pay 8.88 percent of their payroll to the teachers’ retirement system. This year, they are required to pay 16.15 percent. Mandated CalPERS contributions have risen from 11.77 to 20.7 percent of payroll costs in the same timeframe, leaving less money within districts for direct education costs.
The rising liability caught the eye of the Joint Legislative Advisory Committee, a countywide group of elected school board members and superintendents created to advocate on behalf of public education in Marin. Pension reform has been a priority for the committee since 2014, and it’s been the number-one goal since 2017.
The Kentucky House recently passed a state bill that would place newly-hired Kentucky teachers into a new “hybrid” retirement plan design. The new hybrid plan would blend a “foundational” defined benefit pension plan with a “supplemental” defined contribution plan as a means of de-risking the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System, which is only 58.4 percent funded today.
The legislation, which is now before the Senate’s State and Local Government Committee, ultimately seeks to control future employee, retiree and taxpayer costs. The Teachers’ Retirement System of Kentucky already has nearly $15 billion in unfunded liabilities.
An actuarial analysis of the bill, House Bill 258, projects that it would save Kentucky $3.57 billion over 30 years. While the legislation is not a panacea, if enacted, it would be a positive step in the right direction for Kentucky’s overall public pension challenges, which rank among the most difficult in the nation.
After years of discussions about the tricky issue of overhauling Florida’s retirement system for government employees, a Senate committee this week approved a proposal that would shut future workers out of a traditional pension plan.
The proposal, sponsored by Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Chairman Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, would require new employees as of July 1, 2022, to enroll in a 401(k)-style “investment” plan. Employees currently are allowed to choose whether to take part in the pension plan or the investment plan.
Rodrigues, whose Republican-controlled committee approved the bill (SB 84) in a party-line vote, said lawmakers have to make “difficult decisions” to maintain the long-term solvency of the pension fund. He pointed, in part, to a $36 billion unfunded actuarial liability, which is essentially a measurement of whether the fund is projected to have enough money to meet its future obligations.
Now, generally speaking, when an employer switches from a traditional pension to a defined contribution plan, this means a significant drop in plan benefits for employees. In Florida, that’s not the case — at least nominally not so: the employer contribution rate is the same for either type of plan, and varies only by employment class. (Of course, this doesn’t take into account any additional contributions needed to remedy funded status.) In addition, regular readers will know that I insist whenever the opportunity arises that state and local employees should participate in Social Security just as much as the rest of us do; as it happens, that is already the case for public employees in Florida. In addition, unlike the 8 year vesting of the traditional pension plan, the employer contributions to the defined contribution plan vest after only a year of service.
As treasurer, Torsella automatically got a board seat on Pennsylvania’s two massive pension plans, the $60 billion PSERS for public school employees and the $30 billion SERS for state workers. (The letters stand for the Public School Employees’ Retirement System and the State Employees’ Retirement System.)
Everything about them is supersized. Together, they serve more than 700,000 retired and working Pennsylvanians. Taxpayers pay $7 billion into the funds annually, up from near zero in the early 2000s, and five times what employees contribute. Despite that, the plans are hugely underfunded — collectively short $65 billion.
Their health is heavily dependent on their investments. Once on board, Torsella asked to see investment contracts and fee deals with outside money managers — and was told they were not public. It was as if they were somehow more confidential than a town paving contract or a sanitation worker’s salary.