Ohio Auditor: New Pension Accounting Rules Could “Distort” State’s Financial Condition

Balancing The Account

Ohio’s top auditor, Dave Yost, publicly stated earlier this month that new GASB accounting rules – ones that change the way pension liabilities are reported – would hurt Ohio and its local governments.

In an op-ed on the Heartland Institute website, he explains why. From the piece:

Ohio is one of six states treating pensions as a “simple property right.” By Ohio statute, the amount a public employer must contribute to its pension obligation is capped. If a portion of the pension liabilities of the state’s five systems continues to be unfunded, the impact could be shouldered by a combination of the local government, individual employees, reforms from current contributors, or capital shifts from non-mandated benefits (such as health insurance).

The concern in Ohio is that the GASB 68 requirement for local governments to report this liability could dramatically distort the financial condition of a local government. It is important to keep in mind that this new standard creates an accounting liability, rather than a legal liability.

In Ohio, there are no legal means to enforce the unfunded liability of the pension system as against the public employer.

Upon receiving this new standard and recognizing the challenges that GASB 68 poses, my office got to work to determine how Ohio’s local governments can accurately report their financial positions while also following accounting standards.

To comply with GASB 68, our office suggests Ohio governments report the proportionate share of the unfunded pension liability, as a separate line item on the entity’s Statement of Net Position, with the detail of multiple pension systems’ participation in the footnotes, as necessary.

Governments should also include language in their Management Discussion & Analysis (MD&A), explaining Ohio’s legal environment and the limitations on enforcement of the unfunded pension liability as against the local government.

Yost also claims that ratings agencies, including Moody’s and Fitch, could downgrade the state’s bond ratings due to the new way liabilities are reported. But the downgrades wouldn’t be fair, Yost argues, because the financial health of the state is the same even if the numbers look different.

Yost testified earlier this month in front of the GASB regarding the negative impact the rules could have on the state.

 

Photo by www.SeniorLiving.Org

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