Don’t Dismantle Public Pensions Because They Aren’t 100 Percent Funded
Source: NCPERS

Have you ever heard that policymakers want to close participation in a pension plan to all new hires? How about cutting benefits and increasing employee contributions, or converting defined-benefit pensions into do-it-yourself defined-contribution plans?

In the last decade or so, state and local policymakers have been doing exactly these things. In essence, they have been slowly dismantling public pensions. Why? Because, they argue, pension plans are underfunded and cannot be sustained. They also argue that taxpayers cannot afford public pensions. These are misguided arguments and actions. Ability to pay depends on whether an entity can meet its cash flow needs and whether the total assets of the entity – the public employer – are a reasonable fraction of its total liabilities.1

We have addressed the issue of whether taxpayers can afford public pensions in our earlier research,2 which shows that public pensions impose little or no burden on taxpayers. If anything, we have demonstrated that public pensions are revenue-neutral or revenue-positive. In this study, we will focus on whether the ability of public pension plans to meet their benefit obligations has anything to do with their current underfunded status.

New research shows that funding status has little correlation with a pension fund’s ability to pay the promised benefits. Building on Tom Sgouros’s recent work,3 John Mctighe et al.4 argue that full funding of public pensions is not only a misguided goal but also waste of taxpayer money. As long as annual contributions and investment income exceed benefit payments, pension funds can continue to operate in perpetuity regardless of their funding status. Tom Sgouros, of Brown University, demonstrates this through a visual simulation.5

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State-Based Retirement Initiatives and the AGES Principles
Source: American Academy of Actuaries

Over the past several years, a number of states have enacted or proposed state-based retirement initiatives in an effort to expand retirement coverage among private-sector workers.1 In a typical state-based program, any employer above a certain size would be required to offer its employees the option to enroll in the state’s program if the employer does not offer its own retirement plan. Participating employers would be responsible for collecting employee contributions via payroll deduction and remitting those contributions to the plan. However, employer contributions would not be required. The responsibility for maintaining the program and selecting administration and investment service providers would remain with the state.

As of this writing, eight states have enacted legislation to implement such retirement programs for workers in those states: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. In addition, Vermont has enacted legislation to establish a state-facilitated multiple employer plan, a different type of plan than those established by other states (see the “Public Policy and Regulatory Framework” section below). More than 30 other states have legislation in various stages of development or consideration or are performing feasibility studies on such programs.



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Illinois Supreme Court’s health care ruling will cost city retirees
Source: Sun-Times


More than 20,000 city employees and retirees have been dealt a crushing blow that could cost them dearly, but end up saving Chicago taxpayers $130 million a year.

In a six-word ruling on Thanksgiving eve, the Illinois Supreme Court refused to hear the retirees’ appeal of a state Appellate Court ruling that essentially upheld Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s now-completed, three-year phase-out of retiree health care coverage and a 55 percent city subsidy for anyone who did not retire by Aug. 23, 1989.

Clint Krislov, an attorney representing the retirees, said the decision means those retirees are entitled only to bare-bones protections outlined by lower courts.


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The Three Rs of Teacher Retirement: Recruitment, Retention, & Retirement
Source: National Institute on Retirement Security

As early as the turn of the 20th century, American legislators seemed to understand the importance of teacher quality to students’ education. A 1917 report on public education noted that “a school-teacher’s work is personal, direct, and positive. It works for the good or the ill of each pupil.”1

Defined benefit (DB) pension plans were first introduced for teachers in the United States to help with the recruitment of high quality educators, and as an incentive to keep those educators in the teaching profession. By 1916, some form of retirement plan was made available to public schoolteachers in 33 states. It was thought that such a retirement system might serve two purposes: 1) bringing more diverse, and highly qualified teachers into the profession; and 2) creating a more productive workforce that actually saves public employers money, as one dollar in pension benefits was seen as worth more than a dollar in salary.2

Today, the vast majority of public school teachers in the United States participate in a traditional DB pension plan.

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2018 IPPFA Illinois Pension Conference – Registration Now Open
Source: IPPFA

Come join the IPPFA for its 2018 IPPFA Illinois Pension Conference, held May 1st through May 4th, 2018 at the Embassy Suites by Hilton, East Peoria, IL (the subject matter of this conference meets or exceeds state mandated requirements for trustee education; CEU’s are issued through Northern Illinois University).

For over 30 years, the IPPFA has offered public pension trustees the best and latest in trustee training education, striving to offer the best available training. Please join us for sessions in ethics, investment procedures, fiduciary responsibilities, and legal and legislative updates, all presented by nationally renowned speakers.

Register NOW

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Employee Contributions to Public Pension Plans
Source: NASRA Issue Brief

Unlike in the private sector, nearly all employees of state and local government are required to share in the
cost of their retirement benefit. Employee contributions typically are set as a percentage of salary by
statute or by the retirement board. Although investment earnings and employer contributions account for a
larger portion of total public pension fund revenues (see Figure 1), by providing a consistent and predictable
stream of revenue to public pension funds, contributions from employees fill a vital role in financing
pension benefits.i Reforms made in the wake of the 2008-09 market decline included higher employee
contribution rates in many states. This issue brief examines employee contribution plan designs, policies
and recent trends.

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Municipal Securities: Financing the Nation’s Infrastructure
Source: MSRB

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) is a Congressionally
chartered, self-regulatory organization that ensures the integrity of
one of the country’s most important capital markets. Accessed for
centuries by state and local governments to finance trillions of dollars
in infrastructure projects, the municipal securities market is essential to
meeting the local needs of the nation’s residents.

Created in 1975, the MSRB oversees the $3.8 trillion municipal market
and ensures that investors, state and local governments and other
municipal entities can participate in this market and engage in fair
and efficient transactions to finance projects in the public interest.

Development and maintenance of the country’s infrastructure is
primarily a function of state and local governments that issue municipal
bonds. This paper is intended to:

1) Clarify the role of the municipal securities market in financing
U.S. infrastructure;

2) Serve as a primer on municipal securities and their relationship to
federal programs and private partnerships; and

3) Provide considerations for policymakers seeking to optimize
municipal securities and integrate private investment with the
public finance of infrastructure.


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Pension reform flexibility affects government credit quality
Source: Moody’s Investors Service


Financial pressure from pensions, other expenditure needs and slow revenue growth has
prompted many state and local governments to attempt pension benefit reforms. State court
decisions that uphold or overturn reform efforts, and the extent to which benefit changes
are an option for improving pension funding, can significantly affect the credit quality of
governments within a given state. The pace of legislative reform efforts and corresponding
judicial decisions is elevated and ongoing across the country.

Key legal questions often center on the flexibility to alter prospective benefits
for current employees and/or cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for current
employees and retirees. Benefit changes that affect only new employees generally take
years to produce material savings. Some governments, such as the State of New York (Aa1
stable), are limited by their state constitutions to only these types of changes. Courts have
decided that other governments, such as Oregon (Aa1 stable), may not impair accrued
benefits, but can reduce prospective benefit and COLA accruals for current employees.

Judicial decisions on benefit changes can have material credit effects for
governments. For example, the State of New Jersey (A3 stable) averted a substantial
liability increase in 2016 when its highest court upheld a COLA suspension, while Arizona
(Aa2 stable) governments face substantial pension cost increases associated with two legal
decisions by the state’s Supreme Court. A ruling on the breadth of constitutional pension
benefit protections by the Illinois (Baa3 negative) Supreme Court was a driving factor
when we lowered the City of Chicago’s (Ba1 negative) rating below investment grade.

Legal flexibility to achieve reforms does not necessarily translate into practical
feasibility or political willingness to curtail liabilities. Governments such as the
State of Ohio (Aa1 stable) and the City of Dallas (A1 negative) have implemented
pension benefit reforms to avoid or limit rapidly growing costs. The extent to which these
governments can rely on additional reforms to prevent pensions from pressuring budgets
in the future is uncertain. Conversely, facing a legal prohibition, the State of Arizona
obtained voter approval for a constitutional amendment that enabled modest changes to
certain COLA-type benefits.

New strategies unrelated to benefit changes are gaining momentum, with varying
credit impact. The City of Jacksonville, FL (Aa2 stable), among others, has sought to
address rising pension liabilities and costs with dedicated, future revenue streams. The
State of Missouri (Aaa stable), for example, is seeking liability reductions through voluntary
buyout offers.

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Public Pensions Have Been Able to Pay Promised Benefits
Source: PlanSponsor


New research shows that funding status has little correlation with a pension fund’s ability to pay its promised benefits, and NCPERS urges policymakers to stop trying to shut down public pensions.

Some policymakers want to close participation in a public pension plan to all new hires, cut benefits and increase employee contributions, or convert defined benefit (DB) plans pensions into defined contribution (DC) plans. They usually cite the underfunding of public pension plans as the reason for these ideas.

New research shows that funding status has little correlation with a pension fund’s ability to pay its promised benefits. Michael Kahn, director of research for the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems (NCPERS) used data from the annual survey of public pensions by the U.S. Census Bureau for 1993 to 2016 and other data and found that during the last quarter century or so, state and local pension plans have always been able to meet their benefit and other payment obligations.

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State Insurance Mandates and the ACA Essential Benefits Provisions
Source: NCSL

Every state has a substantial number of laws that require private market health insurance to cover specific benefits and provider services. An introduction to such laws is provided below, titled Understanding Mandated Health Insurance Benefits.

State Mandated Benefits

Traditionally states counted health mandate laws to include required categories of up to 70 distinct “benefits” as well as “health providers” (such as acupuncturists or chiropractors) and “persons covered” (such as adopted children, handicapped dependents or adult dependents). Adding up these laws, there are more than 1,900 such statutes among all 50 states; another analysis tallies more than 2,200 individual statute provisions, adopted over a 30+ year period.

Federal “Essential Health Benefits (EHB)

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides for “essential health benefits,” defined as health treatment and services benefits in sections 1302(a) and (b). These combined benefit requirements apply to all policies sold in Exchanges and in the small group and individual markets, effective October 1, 2013. The benefits are covered for individual patient treatments beginning January 1, 2014 and continuing at least through policy plan years 2017 and 2018. 1,2

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