Louisiana Lawmakers Weigh Uses for Pension System’s $300 Million Reserve


Louisiana’s state pension systems have $300 million sitting in “reserve” accounts; the money is meant to fund future cost-of-living increases.

But lawmakers have begun eyeing the money, and are now weighing ways to use the money for other purposes.

One lawmaker, Senator Elbert Guillory [R-Opelousas], wants to use the money to give retirees an extra, immediate cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).

Current Louisiana law allows one COLA increase every two years. State retirees received a 1.5 percent increase this fiscal year, so they normally wouldn’t be eligible to receive another until 2016-17.

But retiree groups, along with Sen. Guillory, are pushing to use the reserve money to fund another 1.5 percent increase this year.

More details from the Advocate:

A state senator wants the 90,000-plus retirees to get an immediate boost in their pension checks.

[Retired State Employees Association legislative liaison Frank] Jobert said retirees want the money reserved for its intended purpose — cost-of-living adjustments to retiree pension checks.

The retiree group will publish the required public notice that legislation will be filed aimed at granting a cost-of-living increase, Jobert said.

Retirees will push for a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase in the fiscal year that begins July 1 with help from Senate Retirement Committee Chairman Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas. Retirees got a 1.5 percent adjustment during the current fiscal year. Under a 2014 law, retirees would be eligible for cost-of-living adjustments only every other year, meaning there would not be one in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Other lawmakers have other plans. If history is any indication, many lawmakers likely want to use the money to pay down the state’s pension debt, which in turn will lower the state’s future pension payments and give lawmakers more money to work with in the general budget. From the Advocate:

The money cannot legally be taken out of pension systems for use in funding other areas of the budget. But the dollars can be used toward reducing the pension systems’ long-term debts, which stand at $19 billion: $12 billion for teachers’ retirements and $7 billion for state government retirees. The payments toward the UAL would reduce the required state contribution. That would free up state dollars for other purposes.


Cindy Rougeou, Louisiana State Employees Retirement System executive director, said it would not be the first time dollars were “swept” from the retiree cost-of-living accounts. She said it happened in 2009 with dollars going to payments on the systems’ unfunded accrued liability. Commonly called the UAL, the term refers to the amount of money necessary to pay out all promised future benefits. The state contributes extra dollars to pay down the immense debt.

Sen. Guillory plans to file a bill in the coming months that would give retirees the extra COLA.

Guillory is chairman of the Senate Retirement Committee.


Photo by  Dewayne Neeley via Flickr CC License

Louisiana Pension Borrowing Proposal Shot Down

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Louisiana lawmakers were floating a plan to borrow money and buy out the pensions of thousands of “vested” retirees – paying them a lump sum payment up front in order to reduce the state’s future pension obligations.

But experts and stakeholders testified that the plan was not a good idea.

From the Advocate:

A proposal to borrow money to help reduce state pension system debts got shot down quickly Monday.

The idea was to borrow money that would be used to pay one lump sum and buy out the pensions of vested retirees who have not yet begun to draw their benefits. Waiting before drawing on a pension allows the retiree’s pension to increase in value. Paying off the benefits of those retirees would reduce the state’s $20 billion long-term debt obligations, called the unfunded accrued liability.

But a state treasury official, the Legislature’s actuary and two state retirement system chiefs all testified that the idea was plagued with problems.

Just how many vested retirees could take part in such a program, if approved, is unclear. However, the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana has 6,336 vested but inactive members, and the value of their pensions is $283 million.

Maureen Westgard, executive director of the Teachers Retirement System, said her board “has viewed (the idea of borrowing) as highly risky” in the past.

According to testimony, the aspect of the plan that called for borrowing money was the most problematic. The option of issuing pension obligation bonds was floated. From the Advocate:

Goldman Sachs pitched the idea of “pension obligation bonds,” and he wanted to see if the idea was a viable one, said Pearson, R-Slidell.

“Pension obligation bond history has not been very favorable,” said legislative actuary Paul Richmond, who noted a disaster involving the New Orleans firefighters retirement system.

First Assistant State Treasurer Ron Henson said the state is restricted in its ability to issue debt by a limit on the money it can spend annually in debt payments.

Further, he said, borrowing is already planned for state and local projects that legislators and their constituents want. “Our debt capacity will not allow the luxury of issues like these,” Henson said.

Louisiana State Employees Retirement System Executive Director Cindy Rougeou said it’s uncertain whether the idea would produce a savings or a cost.

“The overall debt is not being reduced. It’s just restructuring part of the overall UAL debt for a hard bond debt,” she said. “It’s almost taking out a second mortgage.”

Louisiana’s pension systems were collectively 58 percent funded in 2013, according to a 2014 Bloomberg analysis. That ranked 8th-worst in the country.