Forensic Analysis of Pension Funding: A Tool for Policymakers

Link: https://crr.bc.edu/briefs/forensic-analysis-of-pension-funding-a-tool-for-policymakers/

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Full pdf: https://crr.bc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/SLP83_.pdf

Key findings:

State and local policymakers face a growing pension cost burden, but often lack understanding of the root causes.

One underappreciated cause is “legacy debt” – unfunded liabilities accumulated long ago, before plans adopted modern funding practices.

Legacy debt still exists today because historical unfunded liabilities were ultimately paid in full using some of the money intended to fund later benefits.

In a sample of plans with particularly low funded ratios, legacy debt averaged more than 40 percent of unfunded liabilities.

A failure to recognize the legacy debt has provided misleading information about benefit generosity, hindering progress toward effective solutions.

Author(s): Jean-Pierre Aubry

Publication Date: April 2022

Publication Site: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College

Retirees plead for extra pension funding in new state budget

Link: https://newschannel20.com/news/local/retirees-plead-for-extra-pension-funding-in-new-state-budget

Excerpt:

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.

Author(s): Jordan Elder

Publication Date: 7 Mar 2022

Publication Site: News Channel 20

CHICAGO PENSION DEBT DROVE CITY PROPERTY TAXES UP 164% BEFORE COVID-19

Link: https://www.illinoispolicy.org/chicago-pension-debt-drove-city-property-taxes-up-164-before-covid-19/

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Excerpt:

Chicago residential property tax collections across all units of government in the city were up 164% from 2000 to 2019.

Property taxes paid by homeowners within the city grew nearly 30% faster than property taxes in suburban Cook County during those 20 years. Suburban residential property taxes grew 116% while total residential property tax collections county-wide grew 133%.

While some of Chicago’s increase was driven by new property or growth in existing property tax values, the average homeowner still saw an 85% increase in their bill from 2000 to 2019. Since the record-setting 2015 property tax hike to pay for pension debt, the average Chicago bill has risen 27%. Prior to that hike, property taxes were on a lower trend from 2011 to 2014.

Author(s): Adam Schuster

Publication Date: 28 Feb 2022

Publication Site: Illinois Policy

Providence Pension Working Group

Link:https://www.providenceri.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/PVDPensionWorkingGroup_Jan312022.pdf

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Excerpt:

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.

Publication Date: January 2022

Publication Site: Providence RI

Providence needs $500M bond to fix pension shortfall, report states

Link:https://www.bizjournals.com/rhodeisland/news/2022/02/01/providence-needs-500m-bond-to-fix-pension-shortfa.html

Excerpt:

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.

Author(s): Mary Serreze

Publication Date: 1 Feb 2021

Publication Site: Providence Business First

CHICAGO’S $43,100 DEBT PER TAXPAYER DRIVEN BY PENSION DEBT

Link:https://www.illinoispolicy.org/chicagos-43100-debt-per-taxpayer-driven-by-pension-debt/

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Excerpt:

Chicago once again earned a failing grade from Truth in Accounting in their latest Financial State of the Citiesreport thanks to over $38 billion in debt – $43,100 for each taxpayer.

Every Chicagoan would have to send the city that amount just for Chicago to pay the bills it owes. Chicago has just $9.9 billion available to pay $48.6 billion in bills. The Windy City came in 74th out of 75 cities studied in the report, only besting New York City’s massive $204 billion debt with a per-taxpayer burden of $71,400.

The city’s financial failings stem from pension promises the city cannot afford to keep. “Chicago’s financial problems stem mostly from unfunded retirement obligations that have accumulated over the years. The city had set aside only 23 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits and no money for promised retiree health care benefits,” the report notes.

Author(s):Justin Carlson

Publication Date: 8 Feb 2022

Publication Site: Illinois Policy Institute

Good Illinois pension news doesn’t alleviate underlying financial pressures, report states

Link:https://news.yahoo.com/good-illinois-pension-news-doesn-155356123.html

Excerpt:

The state saw its unfunded pension liability decrease in fiscal year 2021 for the first time in four years, due in large part to investment returns exceeding 20 percent, according to a new report from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

Measuring by the current-day values of the pension fund assets, unfunded liabilities – or the amount of debt the state pension funds owe that they can’t afford to pay – dropped by nearly 10 percent, to $130 billion in FY 2021 from $144 billion in the previous fiscal year. That put the state’s five pension funds at 46.5 percent funded, up from 39 percent the previous year.

….

That’s the name commonly used to refer to Public Act 88-0593, or the state’s 50-year plan to bring the its five pension funds to 90 percent funded by 2045.

The actual target for that ramp should be a 100 percent-funded pension system within the next 25 years or preferably sooner, according to a letter attached to the COGFA report from its actuary, Segal Consulting.

Author(s): Jerry Nowicki

Publication Date: 10 Dec 2021

Publication Site: Yahoo News

Will the OPEB Ostriches Ever Run Out of Excuses?

Link:https://www.governing.com/finance/will-the-opeb-ostriches-ever-run-out-of-excuses

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Excerpt:

As one stalwart finance officer once told me, “Our pension funds basically sucked up all the new revenue we’d been hoping to set aside to properly fund OPEB.” Those and other priorities for spending each incremental revenue dollar continued to crowd out the opportunity to institute consistent actuarial funding for OPEB benefits; the path of least resistance for policymakers who lack foresight and a sense of fiscal responsibility has been to keep kicking the can.

So it is that between 2015 and 2019, the state and local sector had clearly sorted itself into three classes of employers: (1) those who had trimmed or modified their OPEB commitments and liabilities to sustainable levels, (2) those who had begun actuarial funding of an OPEB trust fund, and (3) those doing nothing and leaving the problem to their successors and future taxpayers.

Author(s): Girard Miller

Publication Date: 18 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Governing

Illinois downstate/suburban public safety pension gap increases

Link: https://fixedincome.fidelity.com/ftgw/fi/FINewsArticle?id=202112211317SM______BNDBUYER_0000017d-ddd5-d418-a97d-fffffcde0000_110.1#new_tab

Excerpt:

The unfunded liabilities of Illinois? suburban and downstate public safety pensions rose to $13 billion in the last year of compiled results reported to the state, continuing a 29-year climb that underscores the deep strains on local government budgets.

The unfunded tab for the 295 firefighter funds and 352 police funds outside of Chicago grew to $13 billion in fiscal 2019 from $12.3 billion in 2018 and $11.5 billion in 2017. Police accounted for $7.5 billion of the total and firefighters for $5.5 billion, according to a new report from the state legislature?s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

The rising tab could help the Illinois Municipal League?s case in arguing for lawmakers during their 2022 session to loosen funding requirements.

The League wants a re-amortization of the funding schedule that would extend the target date for achieving 90% funding beyond fiscal 2040, and lower the funding target to 80% from 90%. While both would ease the burdens on governments market participants have warned they are Band-Aid fixes that don?t solve the underlying funding strains.

Author(s): Yvette Shields

Publication Date: 21 Dec 2021

Publication Site: Fidelity Fixed Income

This Local Pennsylvania Police Pension Fund Is About to Run Out of Benefits. How Did That Happen?

Link:https://www.ai-cio.com/news/this-local-pennsylvania-police-pension-fund-is-about-to-run-out-of-benefits-how-did-that-happen/

Excerpt:

But of all the struggling pension funds in Pennsylvania, the pension system in the city of Chester was shown to be the most underfunded municipal public pension plan in the entire state in 2019. And now, that situation has gone from bad to worse.

Reports say the pension will run out of money in less than four months, according to Philadelphia’s PBS station, WHYY. One of the primary reasons for this situation appears to date back to 2009, when the pension board adjusted the pension calculation procedure. These adjustments seem to have made it easier for some police officers to spike their pensions.

Under the 2009 change, police officer pensions in Chester were calculated using the salary of the final year of service, which may have encouraged some officers to work overtime as much as possible in their final year in order to inflate their pensions, according to the state’s appointed receiver. In October 2021, this rule was changed so that calculations will now be based upon the last three years of service. 

This one-year policy, combined with the practice of spiking among approximately 80 police officers, appears to be the cause of the pension system’s lack of funding. Officials are hoping to recoup some of the overpayments to retirees, and they are expecting future payments to be reduced significantly.  

Author(s): Anna Gordon

Publication Date: 10 Jan 2022

Publication Site: ai-CIO

Milwaukee pension debt clouds Wisconsin’s otherwise positive retirement system picture

Link:https://reason.org/commentary/milwaukee-pension-debt-clouds-wisconsins-otherwise-positive-retirement-system-picture/

Excerpt:

According to its most recent actuarial report, the Milwaukee County Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) had a funded ratio of 75.3% and unfunded liabilities of $569 million. The county also has separate retirement plans for mass transit employees and temporary employees, but these plans have relatively small unfunded liabilities.

Milwaukee County ERS’ liabilities grew, in part, because the county did not make its full actuarially determined contributions between 2012 and 2016, according to its most recent Annual Comprehensive Financial Report. During that five-year period, the county’s contributions fell $12 million short of recommended levels.

Since 2015, Milwaukee County’s contributions to ERS have tripled from $19 million to $57 million, as it began to meet and then exceed actuarial recommendations. These contributions exclude debt service the county pays on pension obligation bonds it issued in 2009 and 2013.

Author(s):Marc Joffe

Publication Date:13 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Reason

New analysis shows San Diego’s pension system compares favorably to systems across state, nation

Link: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/politics/story/2022-01-16/new-analysis-shows-san-diegos-pension-system-compares-favorably-to-systems-across-state-nation

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Excerpt:

A new analysis shows the city of San Diego’s pension system is in strong financial shape compared to similar systems across the state and the nation.

While the city’s pension debt is nearly $3 billion, most pension systems face similar gaps between their investment assets and long-term projections of what they will owe employees when those employees eventually retire.

The comparative analysis, which was presented to the city’s pension board Friday, shows that San Diego has been in the top half of the nation’s largest 175 pension systems for “funded ratio” every year since 2013.

And the city’s ratio, which just climbed from 70.2 percent to 74.3 percent thanks to the robust stock market, has been in the top quarter of those national pension systems several times in recent years.

The city’s pension system, formally known as the San Diego City Employees Retirement System, also has among the most conservative policies regarding projections of long-term investment returns.

….

San Diego’s projected rate of long-term investment growth is 6.5 percent, which is at the very low end of the group of 175 pension systems.

Author(s): David Garrick

Publication Date: 16 Jan 2022

Publication Site: San Diego Tribune