Tag Archives: Public employees

Fixing the Public Employees’ pension crisis

Public employee pensions are time bombs set to explode.  The State of Illinois finances are in such a state of crisis that its comptroller, Susana Mendoza, has told the legislature that over 90% of its monthly revenue is now being commandeered for court-ordered payments, primarily to pay current pensioners.  If Illinois does not pass a new budget within a few days there will be a financial crisis.

According to Forbes:

Public employee pension plans around the country are facing a shortfall of at least $1 trillion, and some of the largest plans are beginning to radically cut promised benefits because they have not stashed away enough to meet their obligations.

There is only so much money to go around.  Promises that can’t be kept won’t be kept … and that includes pensions.

One sign of things to come is a bill signed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.  It reforms the state pension system that makes it more sustainable.

 “Let’s be clear: This plan addresses our liability in the only real and responsible way possible, by changing the structure of pension benefits,” said Mr. Wolf. “The fact is, we cannot accelerate the shrinking of our liability on the backs of our current employees, and this bill recognizes this in a real, concrete way.”

The bill moves new workers not in high-risk jobs such as state police and corrections officers into a hybrid retirement system.   Half of their retirement benefits will come from pensions paid for by the taxpayer and the other half will come from a 401(a) defined contribution plan.  A 401(a) is similar to a 401(k) but for public employees.  There are differences, but both transfer responsibility for retirement income to the employee and away from the employer.

The law is projected to save more than $5 billion and shield taxpayers from $20 billion or more in additional liabilities if state investments fail to meet projections, said a news release issued from the office of Republican Sen. Jake Corman, the bill’s chief sponsor.

We suspect that Pennsylvania is just the first state to adopt a system that transfers the responsibility for public employees’ retirement income away from the taxpayer and toward the employee.  It levels the playing field between public and private employees.

It will also make financial planning increasingly important for everyone.

Click HERE for questions about financial planning.

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The Public Pension Crisis

Government workers at all levels are likely to have pension plans but there is a big question about the plans’ ability to pay.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 92% percent of full-time government employees like teachers and police officers are eligible for pensions, known as “defined benefit plans.”

According to the BLS about 22% of workers in the private sector have pensions, down from 42% in 1990.  In the private sector, retirement plans are much more likely to be 401(k) plans, known as “defined contribution plans.”  Part of the reason for this is that some large companies, like General Motors, accrued huge pension liabilities over the years that they were unable to pay.

Since the Federal Government can print money, federal employees are not worried.  However, states and municipalities depend on their tax base and can’t print money.  That’s where the problem comes in.  Some estimates claim the unfunded liability of public pension plans exceeded $3 trillion dollars.

According to Governing, the city of Chicago’s has an unfunded pension liability of almost $20,000 per capita.  Other cities are somewhat better off, but no big city has a fully funded pension account.  Dallas and Denver, for example are on the hook for between $8,000 and $9,000 per resident.  It’s difficult to even measure the amount of indebtedness because political leaders really don’t want to discuss it.

The problem has been exacerbated by rate-of-return assumptions that are unrealistic.  Most pension funds assume that their assets will grow at rates of seven to eight percent per year indefinitely, a virtual impossibility in this age of low interest rates and sluggish growth.

What does that mean for public employees?   They may want to cast a wary eye on Puerto Rico and some cities in California who have gone into default.  As a wise man once said, “something that can’t go on forever, won’t.”  A little planning ahead won’t hurt.

Whether you are a public employee or work in the private sector we welcome your inquiries.

 

 

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