Florida Town Negotiates Pension Changes With Police Force

palm tree

The Florida town of Delray Beach this week negotiated a series of pension changes with its police force; the town eliminated early retirement for new hires and lowered the multiplier used to calculate pension benefits for new and current employees.

Un-vested employees also won’t be able to use overtime to boost their pension benefits.

In return, employees will see higher salaries.

From Boca:

Delray Beach successfully completed the city’s push for pension reform this week when the Police Benevolent Association ratified a three-year contract that will save the city $21.3 million in pension contributions over 30 years.

The vote by the police department’s officers and sergeants was overwhelming. Ninety-two approved ratification while just 11 opposed it. The contract will be retroactive until Oct. 1, the start of Delray’s budget year.

For pensions, the contract divides the officers and sergeants into four tiers. Tier 1 includes all employees with at least 20 years of service and all retirees. Their pension benefits won’t change.

Tier 2 includes those with between 10 and 20 years of employment. The “multiplier” used to calculate their benefits will drop from 3.5 percent to 3 percent, and their starting benefit will be limited to $108,000, which is still generous. The lower multiplier also will apply to those in Tier 3—employees with fewer than 10 years of service, meaning they are not yet vested. For new hires—Tier 4—the multiplier will be 2.75 percent, and early retirement will be eliminated.

Not surprisingly, the contract favors seniority, which is typical with most union deals. For all but the new hires, vested officers and sergeants will get at least a 1 percent annual cost-of-living increase in their pensions. That is a perk almost no private-sector employees enjoy.

Still, the contract does a lot for pension sustainability. New hires and those not vested won’t be able to use overtime in calculating pension benefits. Delray Beach should insist on continuing that change in future contract negotiations. New hires won’t get early retirement, and their benefit will be limited to roughly two-thirds of their final average salary.

Just as important, the contract achieves the city commission’s goal of focusing more on pay for police officers when they are working. The annual starting salary will be $48,000 in the first year of the contract. The officers and sergeants will get an immediate raise to compensate for the previous three years, when salaries were frozen. There will be a merit system for raises.

In an email, Mayor Cary Glickstein said, “We achieved our objectives of substantive pension reform, with benefit reductions of over $21 million and re-establishing taxpayer control of the board that manages the pension fund’s assets, while providing substantial wage increases required to attract and retain the best law enforcement personnel in South Florida.”

Delray Beach’s City Manager, Don Cooper, is expected to attempt to negotiate a similar contract with the city’s firefighters.

 

Photo by  pshab via Flickr CC License

Kansas Seeks to Study Pension Privatization

Kansas Seal

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s team is reportedly exploring options to improve the long-term sustainability of the state’s pension systems.

One option on the table: privatization.

From the Associated Press:

Two top aides to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback proposed Friday that Kansas study privatizing the pension system for teachers and government workers.

Budget Director Shawn Sullivan and Secretary of Administration Jim Clark told a joint legislative committee on pensions that “reform options” for bolstering the public pension system’s long-term health should be examined. Their list included converting pension benefits into annuities managed by a private insurer.

“It’s an idea worth pursuing,” Sullivan said after presenting the proposal to lawmakers.

The committee urged Brownback’s aides to gather more information about private companies’ experiences with such moves and present it once legislators open their next annual session Jan. 12.

[…]

Clark said with converting pension obligations into annuities, a private company assumes the long-term financial risks for a fee, while the state can provide competitive benefits at a lower cost.

At least one lawmaker and one union leader weighed in on the idea. Reported by AP:

Rep. Steve Johnson, an Assaria Republican, said the idea has merit, but, “I am not optimistic that there would be a buyer of that liability at a lower cost.”

And Rebecca Proctor, interim executive director of the largest union for Kansas government employees, said private companies’ need for profits would compete with the pension system’s drive “to generate benefits for employees.”

“Any time you put a profit motive in a state service, it’s a problem,” she said.

Last week, Gov. Brownback proposed cutting the state’s pension payment by $41 million to plug budget holes elsewhere.

 

Photo credit: “Seal of Kansas” by [[User:Sagredo|. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Fitch: Lawsuit Against Chicago Pension Cuts Expected; Emblematic of Reform Difficulty

chicago

Chicago unions and public employees filed a lawsuit Tuesday to block pension changes coming in 2015 that would reduce future COLA increases and require workers to pay more toward their retirement.

In a newly released commentary, rating agency Fitch says the lawsuit was expected. But it also demonstrates the difficulty of making changes to pension benefits in a state that protects them fiercely.

From Fitch:

Tuesday’s legal challenge to Chicago’s recent pension reform plan was expected and underscores the difficulty the city faces in its efforts to put its pension plans on firmer footing. Illinois affords particularly strong legal protection to pension benefits.

If the litigation succeeds and changes to the cost of living adjustments (COLAs) and employee contributions are struck down (and no replacement legislation is passed), the city would likely revert back to the lower, statutorily based payments, as annual payments on an actuarially sound basis would rise dramatically. These increases would occur in the context of a statutorily required $538 million increase in contributions for the city’s other two pension systems (police and fire) in 2016. The city has not yet said how the increased pension costs will be accommodated, but Fitch Ratings believes they threaten to crowd out other governmental priorities and remain a formidable challenge to the city’s financial equilibrium.

The city benefits from a strong local economy and enjoys broad home rule authority to raise revenues. However, increasing pension costs are a common problem among Chicago-area governments and funding these increases will likely place a considerable stacked burden on the area’s resource base.

[…]

If the new plan is upheld, it would require significant payment increases from the city, approximately half of which are expected to be funded by increased property taxes and half by budgetary savings. The city plans to gradually increase its revenues for pension payments, which may include property taxes, by $50 million (approximately 6%) annually for five years before reaching the target increment of $250 million in the fifth year.

According to Fitch, Chicago’s pension plans carry a collective funding ratio of 35 percent.

 

Photo by bitsorf via Flickr CC LIcense

Kentucky Pension Director: Fewer Active Workers, More Retirees Is Problem For Fund

Kentucky flag

Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS) executive director Bill Thielen spoke in front of the state’s Pension Oversight Board on Monday, and revealed an as-yet unaddressed trend that spells bad news for the pension system.

The trend involves the balance of active workers to retirees receiving payouts – and the balance is not shifting in the pension system’s favor.

Reported by WFPL:

One problem that remains unaddressed, said Thielen, is the imbalance created by fewer employees paying into KRS and more retirees receiving benefits this year. Board members were told that between 2007 and 2014, the number of active members in the Kentucky Employee Retirement System dropped from 47,913 to 40,365, while the number of retirees grew from 33,849 to 41,223.

That difference represents $228.9 million in losses this year (not counting payouts for hazardous jobs), and Thielen said the state will see more increases in benefit payout during 2015. Overall pension benefits (for all sectors) paid “for fiscal 2014 totaled $1769.7 million compared to $1706.2 in fiscal 2013,” according to the audited data report.

“Our own staff at KRS, also. About 40-45 percent of staff will be eligible to retire,” he said, explaining that private sector wages have begun to lure state employees into early retirement as Kentucky employees go into a fifth year of wage freezes.

“Without raises, we’ll probably see a lot retire.”

The 21 percent funded KERS Non-Hazardous plan is a sub-plan of the Kentucky Retirement Systems.

“Everybody’s Not Going To Retire At The Same Time”: Actuary Evaluates Former Illinois Governor Edgar’s Pension Comments

 

Illinois map and flag

Last month, former Illinois governor Jim Edgar gave his thoughts on the state’s pension situation. He notably said he didn’t support the state’s pension reform law, and said the following:

“I don’t think also you have to have 100 percent funding in the pension plan. Everybody’s not going to retire at the same time. I think you can keep probably 75, 80 percent is sufficient, but I think what you’ve got to demonstrate to a lot of folks out there who rate the state’s credit and a lot of those things is that the plan will work over a period of time and that they are committed and are going to stick with it.”

Actuary Mary Pat Campbell, who runs the STUMP blog, weighed in on Edgar’s comments. As you’ll see, she is not a fan of Edgar’s pension knowledge. The full post is below.

_________________________________

By Mary Pat Campbell, originally published on STUMP

Seems that not all recent Illinois governors end up in prison, (Quinn isn’t out of the woods yet!) but perhaps they should be jailed for this crap:

“I don’t think also you have to have 100 percent funding in the pension plan. Everybody’s not going to retire at the same time. I think you can keep probably 75, 80 percent is sufficient, but I think what you’ve got to demonstrate to a lot of folks out there who rate the state’s credit and a lot of those things is that the plan will work over a period of time and that they are committed and are going to stick with it. We thought when we put in the provision you had to pay into the pension plan first thing before you did anything else that they would keep paying in. I never thought they would have the nerve to change that, but under (former Gov. Rod) Blagojevich they did and so you’re going to have to find some safeguards to put into the plan, but I think it’s going to take 20, 30 years to get to the level we want to get to, but if we start working toward it and don’t go on any spending spree with the pension plan, I think we can do that.”

First off, we do have an appearance of the 80% canard, but there’s a new lie that’s been creeping in that is pissing me off: “Oh, it’s not a problem right now… it would only be a problem if everybody retired at the same time.”

Let me explain, conceptually, what the pension liability is supposed to represent, and what the unfunded portion represents: it is what people have earned for their PAST service, and is using all sorts of assumptions, such as THE AGE THEY WILL PROBABLY RETIRE.

The actuarial value of the pension, under even the craziest approaches, does not assume everybody retires right now.

Let’s consider your pension value for a person still working: each extra year of service, they’ve earned some more. They are also a year closer to retirement. As long as they keep working and are still alive, the value of their pension increases, under most pension benefit design. Sometimes you’ll see a pension value drop at later ages, but that’s getting persnickety (though it has had some repercussions elsewhere).

The pension valuation is supposed to be a snapshot, indicating what has ALREADY BEEN EARNED. There are approaches that try to capture future salary increases, and tries to make accrual less drastic (as one usually does see huge increases in pension value right before retirement under some approaches).

The main time the pension value would be decreasing for a person is when they’re in retirement, as they’re not accruing more benefits, and each year they’re one year closer to death. The time the pension gets paid out is generally getting shorter. If the pension fund cannot cover retiree benefits, it’s in a really bad condition.

And here’s the deal: some pensions are not able to cover just the current retiree portion of the benefits:

Nobody is any more worried now than they were before the New Jersey Pension Study Commission report came out. Yes, “[t]his problem is dire and will only become much worse if meaningful steps are not taken quickly” but what does that really mean to anyone?

…. Scary Conclusions

1. For retirees there may be about $15 billion to cover $40 billion in liabilities and that’s ONLY for retirees leaving absolutely NOTHING for the 151,669 participants who have not yet started receiving monthly benefits except, for now, the refund of their contributions.

2. There is an equally good chance that Conclusion #1 is overly optimistic

I doubt New Jersey is the only state in that situation. As noted earlier, Kentucky is looking really bad.

And in my recent teaser, I showed a set of graphs I am developing for various pension plans. The ones being shown were for Texas Teachers Retirement System. I will explain them in a later post, and start showing you some truly scary information — using the official numbers from the plans themselves.

But shame on Gov. Edgar for mouthing the same bullshit everybody else does in favor of underfunding the pensions. I have looked at over a decades’ worth of Illinois pension valuations, and for all major funds (except one), they deliberately underfunded by substantial amounts, even in “good” years.

If you’re not going to make contributions when times are good, guess what will happen to the pensions when times are bad?

I guess ex-Gov. Edgar wants to cover his own ass for the pensions being underfunded in the go-go 90s, when he was governor (1991 – 1999). Hey! Everybody was doing it! 80% is good enough!

NO, IT’S NOT.

SHAME.

 

Newspaper: Kentucky Pension System is Public Business

Kentucky flag

Pension360 covered the push last week by several Kentucky lawmakers to make the state’s pension system more transparent.

But at least one lawmaker wasn’t on board with those plans. House State Government Committee Chairman Brent Yonts had this to say about his colleagues’ proposals, which included public disclosure of pension benefits, management fees, and other data:

“Frankly, I don’t think that’s the public’s business,” Yonts said. “They have access to the public payroll and salary information. They can theorize about what we’re going to collect in pensions. But the public is not entitled to know every last little thing about us.”

The Lexington-Herald Leader editorial board weighed in on the issue on Wednesday. The newspaper’s stance: public pensions should be public business. From the editorial:

Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, is certainly right that the public “is not entitled to know every little thing about us.”

We don’t need to know Yonts’ blood pressure or where he gets his hair done, or which, if any, bourbon he likes to sip of an evening.

But taxpayers are entitled to know how much he and every other state employee will receive from our public pension systems.

Yonts, chairman of the House State Government Committee, made his “every little thing” remark while explaining his opposition to two bills — prefiled for the upcoming session — that would increase transparency in the beleaguered public retirement systems.

Specifically, Yonts thinks the public just doesn’t have the right to know how much retirees are drawing in public pension benefits.

“Frankly, I don’t think that’s the public’s business,” he told reporter John Cheves.

It is all the public’s business: How much people draw and how much the retirement systems pay hedge fund managers and other investment advisers.

Right now the largest of these funds, the Kentucky Employees Retirement System, which covers workers in non-hazardous jobs, is at a perilous 21-percent funding level. That means it has only about one in five of the dollars it is obligated to pay out.

This has happened for several reasons, undoubtedly the most important being that governors and the General Assembly have balanced too many budgets by forgoing the state’s annual match to the money paid in by employees. That’s a breach of promise and an unconscionable slap at state workers.

[…]

And, then there’s the $55 million that the retirement systems paid to investment managers with very little disclosure about what we got for that money.

It’s impossible to fix Kentucky’s public pension mess without laying all the cards on the table. How much do the spikers, double-dippers and well-retired lawmakers cost the system? No one knows, or if they do they’re not telling. How are the investment advisers’ fees set and what do we get for them?

Yonts and public employees who say retirement benefits are none of our business should get over it.

Employees are absolutely right that they took jobs and paid into the retirement system on the belief the money would be there.

But taxpayers funded those salaries and will pay the lion’s share of the bill to solve the pension mess. They have the right to know every little thing.

The full editorial can be read here.

Chart: The Pension Benefits of Outgoing Illinois Lawmakers

illinois pensions

Here’s a rundown of the eligible pensions of Illinois elected officials due to leave office in 2015. In addition to the above pension benefits, any lawmaker who served 4 years in the state’s General Assembly — and was elected before 2011 — can receive free health insurance for their rest of their lives.

 

Graphic credit: Scott Reeder at the Journal-Courier

Why Have Local Governments Been Slow to Adopt Automatic Enrollment Practices?

savings jar

As defined-benefit plans around the country become more costly, some local governments have begun switching new hires into defined-contribution (DC) plans.

But those same governments have been slow to adopt automatic enrollment practices, according to a report published in the November issue of Pension Benefits.

From the article:

The public sector has been much slower that the private sector to adopt automatic enrollment for its defined contribution (DC) plans: only 2% use automatic enrollment. Currently, five states have automatic enrollment for the DC plans available for their workers: Georgia (ERSG), Missouri (MOSERS), South Dakota (SDRS), Texas (TRS), and Virginia (VRS).

[…]

Workforce trends and the current state of public retirement benefits strongly suggest that DC features that encourage savings, such as automatic enrollment, can play an important role in the retirement income security of many public employees.

So why haven’t local governments adopted auto enrollment practices? The article’s author, Paula Sanford, offers some reasons:

– Legal constraints. Only 11 states permit automatic enrollment for public DC plans. In a few places, an exemption to anti-garnishment laws has been written into statute for a particular retirement system or plan.

– Perception. Government leaders worry that automatic enrollment in a supplemental savings plan might overburden their employees, especially those who earn modest wages.

– Labor questions. There is debate in the labor community about whether automatic enrollment should be supported.

– Administrative challenges, such as multiple record keepers.

Cobb Country, Georgia, offers an example of how auto enrollment can increase participation:

The county started automatic enrollment for new employees in January 2013, and the feature has been very successful at increasing participation in the 457(b) plan. Prior to automatic enrollment, countywide participation in the 457(b) plan was only at about 33%; yet in just a little over a year, it has increased to 57.5%. This increase is striking considering that approximately two-thirds of the employees still participate in the original DB plan. The initial employee contribution under automatic enrollment is 1% of salary, and the county has kept its matching formula for all hybrid plan participants.

Read the full report, containing further analysis and other examples, in the latest issue of Pension Benefits or here.

 

Photo by TaxCredits.net

Are Pensions More Important To Retirement Security Than Data Shows?

Pink Piggy Bank On Top Of A Pile Of One Dollar Bills

Alan L. Gustman, Thomas L. Steinmeier and Nahid Tabatabai have authored a paper exploring the possibility that the importance of pensions, and the financial support they provide retirees, is understated in retirement income data.

The paper, titled “Mismeasurement of Pensions Before and After Retirement”, was published in the Journal of Pension Economics and Finance.

From the paper:

There are a number of reasons why the value of pensions after retirement may be underestimated, especially if evaluation is based on sources of income realized in retirement. First, not all pensions are in pay status, even after the person leaves the pension job. When a pension is not in pay status, it is commonly ignored in questions related to pension incomes. Even when a pension is in pay status, a survey may not include income from the pension. For example, as pointed out by Anguelov, Iams and Purcell (2012), CPS data on pension incomes in retirement count only annuitized income, but not irregular income from pensions, such as periodic withdrawals from 401k accounts. This is an important problem because funds in DC pension accounts often are not claimed until the covered worker reaches age 70, when withdrawals are mandated. Indeed, a disproportionate amount of benefits may not be withdrawn until even later.

The paper provides further reason that survey data may not accurately portray pension benefits received by retirees:

Another factor is that actual benefit payments may be reduced from the pension called for by the simple benefit formula advertised by the firm when an annuity is chosen that differs from the single life annuity emphasized by plan. For example, the annuitized benefit will be reduced when, as required by law, a spouse or survivor benefit is chosen. The reduction will depend on the ages of each spouse and on whether the survivor benefit is half the main benefit, whether it is two thirds as in Social Security, or whether the annual benefit will remain unchanged upon the death of the covered worker. There may be further reductions if the retiree chooses a guaranteed minimum payout period.

To be sure, these differences in payout due to actuarial adjustments do not create actual differences in the present value of benefits. But one must know the details of the respondent’s choice as to spouse and survivor benefits and other characteristics of the annuity, and adjust using appropriate life tables. That is, a proper analysis would not just consider the annual pension payment, but would also consider the value of payments that will be made in future years to the surviving spouse. Typically these details are not available on a survey and no such adjustment is made.

The paper delves much deeper into this issue – read the full paper here.

 

Photo by www.SeniorLiving.Org

Detroit Bankruptcy Judge Asks: Why Should City’s Pensioners Should Get Better Treatment Than Its Creditors?

Detroit

Closing arguments are underway in Detroit’s bankruptcy trial. But even if the trial is almost over, the drama isn’t.

Judge Steven Rhodes wondered aloud on Monday whether the city’s pensioners were getting more favorable treatment than its creditors – pension benefits were cut as part of the bankruptcy deal, but those benefits could be restored in the future.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Judge Steven Rhodes today pressured Detroit’s bankruptcy attorneys to justify better treatment for pensioners than financial creditors, making for an unexpectedly dramatic exchange during closing arguments of the city’s historic bankruptcy trial.

In a discussion of the complicated math underpinning the city’s financial projections, Rhodes noted that pensioners could eventually get all their pension cuts restored if the city’s pension investments perform well over the next several years.

“Tell me why that isn’t a 100% recovery,” Rhodes told Detroit bankruptcy lawyer Bruce Bennett.

“The math gets a little tricky here,” Bennett responded.

The exchange underscores the importance of the unfair discrimination issue in Detroit’s bankruptcy. Although all major creditors have struck settlements, bond insurers Syncora and Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. (FGIC) argued earlier in the case that pensioners were getting extraordinarily favorable treatment.

[…]

Bennett said the largely amicable [pension] plan is “very remarkable” after a tumultuous negotiation period with retirees, insurers, bondholders and unions.

“We had litigation with everybody about something,” Bennett said.

He said the plan of adjustment is feasible and concluded that raising taxes to pay off debts was not workable, in part because the city has reached its legally allowable property tax rate.

“It’s frankly easy to decide taxes should not be increased. The harder question is, should taxes be reduced?” Bennett said.

Core to the city’s bankruptcy restructuring plan is the grand bargain, which Bennett defended. The plan aims to shield the city-owned Detroit Institute of Arts from having to sell masterworks while also providing the equivalent of $816 million to reduce pension cuts to city workers and retirees.

As part of Detroit’s bankruptcy, civilian pensioners accepted 4.5 percent cuts to monthly benefits and the elimination of COLAs.

Police and Fire retirees saw their COLAs reduced from 2.25 percent to 1 percent.