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Old 01-12-2010, 12:44 PM
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Default Public plans in trouble: part 2

Electric Bugaloo.

Someone noted the other thread has just topped a thousand posts, and it might be a good time to retire that one and start a new one. I concur. This is going to be an action-packed [or rather article-packed] year with regards to public pensions, I can just feel it. This year should get its own thread.

Let's kick it off with the Church of England [not exactly a public pension, but the Church of England is an official state body, the Queen being head and all, and besides, this is a great horrible story]:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8e775de8-f...44feab49a.html

And this is one of the few where an actuary is definitely pointed out for giving horrid investment advice:

Quote:
Questions are now being asked as to how the Church was able to lose so much and why its actuary ignored a decade of advancements in portfolio theory to advise on a course of action it knew to have inherently large risks. While UK pension schemes are all suffering the after-effects of the credit crunch, the Church's stands out; unusually, it invested all its assets in stock markets. "They just decided to go double or quits at the casino," says John Ralfe, a pensions consultant who has been critical of investment strategies that focus on the returns, but not the risks, of equity investment.
....
The Church pensions board came into being in its present form just over a decade ago, as a result of a previous scandal. Through the 1990s, the Church had been rocked by allegations about financial mismanagement. Under the auspices of the powerful Church Commissioners - then a virtually independent fiefdom within the hierarchy - the Church's endowment had crashed in value. Caught in the 1980s property bubble, its ancient wealth had been devastated.

Public outcry, a parliamentary inquiry and the threat of disestablishment forced a reform of church finances and in 1998, the pensions board - previously a small satellite in the orbit of the Church Commissioners - was empowered to oversee future clergy pensions. With the move, the Church of England Funded Pensions Scheme (CEFPS) was established. While the Church Commissioners would look after historical liabilities, the CEFPS, under the pensions board, was to take care of the future.

Of the 20 trustees for the newly enfranchised board, just six had served previously. Allan Bridgewater, the outgoing chief executive of insurer Norwich Union and a lifelong Christian, was appointed chairman.

But the break with the past was far from total. Legislation now required the board to seek professional advice but only one new portfolio manager, Mercury Asset Management, was selected. Phillips & Drew Fund Management, which had advised the Church on its finances since 1983, was retained - as was Lane Clark & Peacock as both actuary and investment adviser, creating what some regard as a potential conflict of interest.

With no separate investment sub-committee, it was, as in the past, the actuary to which the board listened most. The advice given was clear: the entire CEFPS fund should be invested in higher-returning assets. Equities, the board was told, could be relied on over the longer term to deliver big returns. As the scheme's immediate liabilities were so low - very few of its membership were near retirement - equities' interim volatility could be afforded. In other words, big single-year losses could be sustained as long as the average return over several years remained high.
More at the link. Interesting story.

But here we go - often noted that in the long run equities outperform fixed income assets. The problem is ignoring that

1. you're not going to get expected, you're going to get a very specific history... and equities are much more volatile than fixed income assets

2. You're making fixed cash flow promises. What happens when you make your big bet and the cash flows aren't there?

Seems to me that one should at least test one's theories would have passed history we've actually suffered at different points. Find the worst n-year run [and that could've been done - plenty of market busts, recessions, depressions, in the past] and just see what would've happened.

So, let's see - was this better or worse than Equitable Life screwup?

The plus side is they can't run the Morris Review again....
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Old 01-12-2010, 12:58 PM
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From the prior thread:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Salzmann View Post
Well, you can all stop worrying. This Letter to the Editor

http://www.cantonrep.com/opinion/let...save-tax-money

was written by the Co-Chairs of the "Healthcare and Pension Advocates" for the Ohio State Teachers' Retirement System (STRS). They want us to know that DB Public employees' pension plans save tax money. One excerpt: "According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, defined-benefit pensions can provide the same retirement income as defined contribution plans — cash accounts such as a 401(k) — at 46 percent of the cost due to economic efficiencies from pooled investment risk, higher returns and lower fees."

Most of the people posting in response beg to differ.
National Institute on Retirement Security? Maybe someone should inform these "experts" of the difference between theory and practice.

Edit: Looking at the makeup of their Board, their conclusion does not surprise me.

http://www.nirsonline.org/index.php?...d=13&Itemid=42
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Old 01-12-2010, 01:34 PM
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Now let's go stateside for regular news.

I will not quote, just note, that it looks like all the pension checks in NY have been found. They got mixed up with catalogs or something:
http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.s...at_last_l.html

Okay, they had that hearing in Contra Costa, Ca. and it sounds like it was a rollicking good time:
http://www.contracostatimes.com/news...nclick_check=1

Quote:
Contra Costa employees and union representatives on Monday implored their pension board not to change established rules governing pension calculations.

The pleas came at a Contra Costa Employee Retirement Association meeting that drew 500 people, many of whom expressed indignation at board attorney Harvey Leiderman's warnings about the legality of the calculations.

He reviewed court rulings that said pension boards are not required to permit end-of-career salary enhancements — such as selling back vacation time — to calculate highest annual salary in determining pension payouts.

"This board is responsible to the retirees, not to the general public," said Rollie Katz, business agent of Public Employees Local 1, the county's largest union. "These are vested rights, and we've relied on what we've been told about what we are owed."

However, the leader of a Contra Costa taxpayer advocacy group said that the pension board and system might be liable for a lawsuit from taxpayers or the county if nothing is done.

"Leiderman laid out things very clearly that things have changed based on these judicial decisions," said Kris Hunt, executive director of the Contra Costa Taxpayer Association. "He was telling them that there could be a problem if they don't take corrective action."
http://www.halfwaytoconcord.com/cont...nsion-spiking/

Quote:
It was grand kabuki at the Concord Hilton before a packed ballroom as Counsel for the CCCERA went through a slideshow explaining current law stemming from a 1997 court ruling (Ventura). Despite the grandstanding of several board members it became clear over the course of the meeting that:

1. Employees are not vested to benefits created by a mistake by the board.
2. The CCCERA is in fact culpable for allowing certain kinds of cash payment be used for calculation of final year salary.
3. Whether or not the CCCERA changes its procedures for new hires seems to be shaping up as a sued if you do or damned if you don’t.

A simplistic example would be: why did the board allow an employee with accrued vacation or sick time to be use that time to raise final year salary and thus receive a much more generous pension than an employee that cashed in accrued personal leave time yearly. Additional example of pension spiking the CCCERA allows as “policy” is letting employees “straddle” accrued time over three fiscal years to beef up average salary of three years.

According to the presentation by counsel, the duty of the CCCERA board is fourfold:

1. Preserve and protect the fund, to pay lawful benefits, and collect sufficient contributions to support the benefits

2. May not perpetuate an erroreous interpretation of the (Ventura) law that would cause such distortions outlined above

3. Must act fairly to all members and their beneficiaries across all generations

4. Subordinate duty to mimimize employer contributions, consistent with its fiduciary duty.
Lots more at the links. Sorry guys, your pension-spiking games came at a very bad time... the music has stopped and no chair for you.

A few comments from the sole trustee of the NY public pensions:
http://polhudson.lohudblogs.com/2010...and-elections/

Quote:
As for whether the state should go to a board instead of a sole trusteeship overseeing the state’s pension fund—one of the largest in the country—DiNapoli continued to warn he has concerns about doing it.

“If you have people who want to subvert a system and do corrupt things, the evidence is clear that a board in and of itself does not make the pension system immune from that,” DiNapoli said. “You need to have people of integrity, no matter what system you have.”
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Old 01-12-2010, 01:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WellThen View Post
From the prior thread:



National Institute on Retirement Security? Maybe someone should inform these "experts" of the difference between theory and practice.

Edit: Looking at the makeup of their Board, their conclusion does not surprise me.

http://www.nirsonline.org/index.php?...d=13&Itemid=42
Look at the comments on the piece. I'll pull out this one:
Quote:
The authors of this column state that per the National Institute on Retirement Security, defined-benefit plans (such as the STRS plan) provide similar benefits as defined-contribution plans (such as 401(k) plans) at substantial savings. This is untrue. The private sector has been abandoning defined-benefit plans for 25 years because of their prohibitive cost.

Furthermore, the National Institute on Retirement Security is a nonprofit association of public and union pension funds. This organization is not an objective source to cite in this instance.
....
Remember, anytime 'employer' is mentioned here, it is a tax-collecting entity that is paying the bills. In other words, when the 'employer' incurs a cost, it is the taxpayer bearing the burden.

So when the authors say that 'employers are being asked for a modest increase in their contribution to share in the cost of maintaining a secure retirement plan,' it means that taxpayers are being asked for an increase in their taxes.

And when any government expenditure is labeled as 'an investment,' grab your wallet.
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Old 01-12-2010, 04:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WellThen View Post
From the prior thread:



National Institute on Retirement Security? Maybe someone should inform these "experts" of the difference between theory and practice.

Edit: Looking at the makeup of their Board, their conclusion does not surprise me.

http://www.nirsonline.org/index.php?...d=13&Itemid=42
The NIRS was created in late 2007 as a "research" front organization by NCTR and NASRA. Their agenda is political defense of public sector generous benefits, poor investment practices, and undisciplined actuarial practice. They are the research front for the special interests that have made these threads so necessary and so dismal.

The executive director has marginal credentials as a researcher but plenty of experience producing research in support of a purpose.
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Old 01-12-2010, 04:50 PM
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Oh yes, I've seen some of the papers coming out of NASRA. Interestingly, most of the ones I came across had no dates on the titles, and I couldn't figure out when they were from, exactly.
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Old 01-13-2010, 11:57 AM
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More Contra Costa coverage:
http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?sec...bay&id=7212660

Quote:
Contra Costa County is facing a crisis over its employee pension plan. It has to increase its pension contribution by a whopping 77 percent over the next six years, which means $105 million. That harsh reality prompted the county's retirement board to take a hard look at a practice called "spiking."

Hundreds of retirees and current employees of Contra Costa County packed a hotel ballroom to hear whether their pensions might be cut. At issue is the 12-year-old practice of spiking.

Spiking involves taking cash payouts in lieu of accrued vacation time in the last year of employment. That amount is then added to an employee's final year of wages, which can dramatically inflate pensions.

"They've been overpaid. There should be some way for them to repay what they didn't earn and they didn't get under the law," says Marcia Fritz, a taxpayer advocate from the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility.

"To even discuss that they might reduce that, what people have planned and made their retirement plans on, is unconscionable," says Wanda Quever, a Contra Costa employee.
More fun in Baltimore:
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bal...,3225865.story

Quote:
About 30 people shook angry signs and chanted in front of City Hall Tuesday afternoon to protest the $83,000 annual pension Mayor Sheila Dixon will receive after resigning from office as part of a plea deal.

"It's an abomination," said Sylvia Harris, the mother of City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., who was murdered in 2008. "Sheila should be ashamed of herself. There's no way we can continue to let the politicians in Maryland to continue to benefit from crime." Her son would be "horrified" by Dixon's pension, she said.

Josh Dowlutt, a 30-year-old mortgage company owner from Highlandtown, said he planned the rally because of the "injustice and iniquity" of Dixon receiving the pension for the rest of her life.

"What kind of a punishment did she get?" he said. "Every year Baltimore is going to have a much better use for $83,000 than paying her."
And more on that protest:
http://www.wbaltv.com/news/22220180/detail.html

More on Baltimore:
http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news...l_pension.html
Quote:
Political self-interest is trumping monetary self-interest in Baltimore County, where the two county councilmen who are plotting runs for county executive this year have introduced dueling versions of legislation to address the voter outrage over the prospect that one of their members, Vincent J. Gardina, is set to retire with a pension equal to 100 percent of his $54,000-a-year salary for the rest of his life.

Both the first piece of legislation, offered by Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, and the second, introduced by Councilman Joe Bartenfelder, are up for discussion today at the council's work session, and both would mark an improvement over the current system. But public outrage over elected officials' pensions reached the boiling point last week, when Mayor Sheila Dixon cut a deal that will allow her to keep her $83,000-a-year pension, notwithstanding her plea deal on embezzlement and perjury charges, and even the reforms Messrs. Kamenetz and Bartenfelder are proposing likely don't go far enough to satisfy voters.
More on pol pensions
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10013/1027732-454.stm
Quote:
HARRISBURG -- Not many 50-year-olds can retire from their job with a pension that could hit $90,000 a year, but state House Speaker Keith McCall is doing it.

The Carbon County Democrat said yesterday he'll retire Dec. 1 after 28 years in the state House and at the end of the current two-year legislative term, so he can spend more time with his family.
[i.e., he knows he won't get reelected]

West Virginia
http://www.news-register.net/page/co...id/533087.html

Quote:
The next two months will be unpleasant ones for West Virginia legislators and Gov. Joe Manchin, as they cope with the meltdown in the nation's financial system during the past year or so.

Financial markets are recovering, and that means the state's investment outlook is good. But during the period in which stocks and other investments were taking a beating, West Virginia lost tens of millions of dollars. According to analysts, state pension plans suffered a 23.5 percent loss.

That means the pension programs, some of which already were vastly underfunded, are in a catch-up mode. State Budget Director Mike McKown has said that the pension systems will need an additional infusion of $145 million during the coming fiscal year, solely to overcome the investment losses.

Ohio:
http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/...ar-474359.html

Quote:
Like it or not, lawmakers will be asked this year to overhaul the state’s public pension systems that serve 1.7 million Ohioans and cost local governments more than $4 billion a year.

It’ll be an epic struggle among powerful interest groups to determine how the burden of shoring up the pension systems is shared.

Teachers, cops and firefighters may be asked to work longer. Retirees will likely face higher medical costs. And taxpayers may be asked to chip in as much as $5 billion toward the pension systems, if lawmakers accept proposed increases from two of the state’s five public pension funds.

The Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund and State Teachers Retirement System are asking for rate increases that, over the next five years alone, would cost local governments hundreds of millions of dollars.

State Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, described the viability of making taxpayers shell out more through higher employer contributions as “highly unlikely, probably impossible,” given the economic slump and the financial struggles local governments already face.
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Old 01-14-2010, 07:10 PM
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Looks like that "Public pensions are super great!" letter got published in another venue:
http://www.vindy.com/news/2010/jan/1...good-deal-for/

Only a couple comments when I visited it.

This is currently tangential to public pensions:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/busine...,2458201.story

Quote:
The Securities and Exchange Commission announced new investigative units and enforcement measures as the agency undertakes the most extensive restructuring of its enforcement division in decades.
....
The five new units are: asset management, market abuse, structured and new products, foreign corrupt practices, and municipal securities and public pensions.

SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami also announced measures designed to encourage companies and individuals to cooperate more closely in providing information.
....
For the first time, the SEC will have a formal framework of incentives for gaining the cooperation of people who witnessed instances of securities fraud -- and "who can walk into a courtroom, raise their right hand and tell their story to the world," Khuzami said at a news conference at agency headquarters.
Now, given the past record of the SEC, which seems to discover fraud well after it makes the front page of the WSJ, I'm not sure I'll get anything juicy out of their sole activity. But let me keep hope alive - perhaps they'll actually dig up some dirt for once.

A comment on Dixon and pol pensions:
http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/busi...rotest_be.html
Quote:
So the protest against Sheila Dixon's pension was a bigger deal on the Web than on City Hall steps. Hundreds of people signed up for Facebook groups protesting the pension for Dixon, who keeps her $83,000 annuity, collectible immediately, even though she pleaded guilty to perjury in connection with gift card shenanigans.

But as Julie Scharper reports in today's paper, only about 30 showed up to carry on the protest in person. Even so, the government pension issue is not going to go away. The focus on Dixon will fade. Federal law gives very strong protections to pensions, and she's not going to lose it. But taxpayer liability for generous government-employee pensions and other retirement benefits is growing at a rapid, probably unsustainable rate. The sooner policymakers deal with it, the better. But since the pensions involved include those of the policymakers, don't sit on the edge of your seat.
Let me make a political statement: elected officials should not be given government pensions. Period. Of any kind - DB, DC, hybrid, I don't care. I'm not even sure they should be paid a salary. No one should be in government as a career. That's my opinion, and I doubt it will change.

Stuff afoot in Kentucky:
http://www.courier-journal.com/artic...77/1008/NEWS01

Quote:
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Senate approved a measure Wednesday to close a loophole in the law that fattens the pensions of lawmakers who leave the General Assembly to take jobs in the executive or judicial branches of state government.

The retirement perk has become controversial in recent months as Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat who is trying to eliminate the Republican majority in the Senate, lured two GOP senators out of the legislature with high-salary appointments that will greatly boost their pensions.

“(The governor) abused the process in a way that was never anticipated and that was to procure members of the General Assembly by taking advantage of this loophole,” Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said after the vote.
....
The measure would end a provision, added to the law in 2005, that allows lawmakers who take state jobs to use their higher, non-legislative state salaries to calculate their legislative pensions. A legislator's pension is based on length of service, the highest three years of salary and a benefit multiplier.

Because legislators' jobs are part-time, their salaries are relatively low, in some cases no more than about $20,300. Salaries in the judicial and executive branches are much higher, sometimes going well into six figures, which can sharply increase their pensions.
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Old 01-15-2010, 03:54 PM
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Ok, POB quiz time from John Bury:
http://blog.nj.com/njv_johnbury/2010/01/pob_quiz.html

Quote:
Situation: A government gets a $1,000 bill to fund their public pension plan for 2010 and doesn't want to pay it.

Solution: Sell a Pension Obligation Bond. You get the $1,000 to put into the plan in exchange for a promise to pay, starting 15 years from now, an amount to pay off the bond over 20 years.

The Numbers: At 5% interest the government will owe $2,000 in 2025 and begin paying it off, $120 per year, until 2045. At the 8% interest that the pension plan assets are assumed to earn that $1,000 would grow to $3,200 inside the plan by 2025. That additional $1,200 in the plan when amortized over 20 years at 8% would yield the same $120 per year which would mean you have those bond payments covered by additional earnings within the plan (i.e. since the money was made through earnings you offset the required contribution by that exact amount). Essentially the bond pays for itself.

History: This is pretty much what New Jersey did in 1997 and how it was sold. Find a brief history of POBs here.

Find the Flaw: Any politician desperate enough for a way to avoid paying that $1,000 would buy this solution as viable. It's not. What's the flaw? Comment below and I'll post the answer tomorrow if nobody gets it.
I'm sure somebody here can answer the quiz.

Here's something on NY
http://www.r8ny.com/blog/larry_littl..._move_out.html

Quote:
So Governor Paterson has announced that local governments in the portion of the state outside New York City will be able to put off paying into the state pension funds the amount required to keep them solvent. They will not have to pay more 9.5% for most workers and 17.5% for police and fire workers -- a small fraction of what New York City is paying right now! The money would be borrowed from the pension funds themselves. And what would happen if future residents of those localities are unwilling or unable to pay the money back, a near certainty? I suppose the state -- including residents of New York City -- would have to do so instead. With the state once again offering nothing to New York City.
....
The pension contributions required by the rest of the state would explode after FY 2015; after the end of Paterson's second term, or so he hopes. That's when the rest of the state would have to pay back the $billions borrowed. And I mean explode.

So what would happen then? By that standard, the state should allow New York City to stop making pension contributions altogether. But then again, a large share of the beneficiaries of those enhanced pensions live in the rest of the state, and plan to move to Florida.

Perhaps Paterson himself will be moving to Florida then, along with Siver and Skelos.
Long-term thinking for a politician is til his next election [or rather, til the end of the last term he can think of, and hopefully not ruining his chances to turn his political connections into lobbying gold. For some reason, I think the normal modus operandi isn't going to be working that well in the near term.]

Lake Forest, Ill.
http://www.pioneerlocal.com/lakefore...410-s1.article
Quote:
Nearly 70 residents and city employees attended a Public Pension Forum Monday night at the Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest, learning how the pension funds work, what Lake Forest is required to contribute, where the state legislature stands on the issue and what the police and fire Pension Boards are saying.
....
Without action by the state legislature, "Lake Forest and many other Illinois communities are faced with complex choices, including budget cuts, deferred infrastructure improvements or an increased burden on taxpayers to fund these pension benefits," Cowhey said.

Grumhaus said that while revenues are estimated to decrease for the city in the 2011 fiscal year, fire and police pension costs are expected to increase $470,570 or 25 percent. Pension costs comprise 12 percent of the city's expenses, he said. In the 2010 fiscal year, the city expects to spend $3,869,103 on pension costs.

Without legislative reform, Lake Forest "will have to cut $500,000 from the fiscal year 2011 budget" to meet its pension payments, Grumhaus said.

The city has 283 active employees who are served by a pension fund. There are 41 active police officers and 36 active firefighters, who have their own pension funds. The remaining 206 active city employees are covered by IMRF -- the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
More at link.

That reminds me. A few months ago, the kids were putting together a huge floor puzzle of a map of the U.S. The 6-year-old was reading out state names to hilarious results. When she got to "Illinois", she pronounced it "Illness".

California and placement agents:
http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=9566714
Quote:
Documents released Thursday show placement agents have received more than $125 million in fees from private investment funds for getting business with the giant California Public Employees' Retirement System.

The nation's largest public pension fund released the payment disclosure documents amid scrutiny into the activities and influence of the agents, who include former CalPERS' board members, and a move to enact a law requiring agents to register as lobbyists while barring contingent fee arrangements.
More on Contra Costa:
http://calpensions.com/2010/01/14/ca...ce-repayments/

Quote:
A nightmare for retired government employees was aired before an overflow crowd at a Contra Costa County pension board hearing this week — fear not only of a pension cut but of being forced to repay a pension overpayment.

Gayl Belfor said her pension is $2,377 a month, far less than the big pensions received by two fire chiefs that triggered a legal review of the policies of the Contra Costa County Employees Retirement system.

If the board wants a “clawback” or repayment of the pension payments received under the decade-old policy questioned in the review, Belfor said, she calculated that she would owe $15,200.

“Where am I supposed to get it?” Belfor told the board “And I won’t expect an answer from you, because I sure as hell don’t have it.”

An emotional plea came from a retired San Ramon firefighter, who said he helped pay for his pension and earned his retirement by giving “my heart, my soul, my leg, my knee” while on the job.

“I’m pissed,” said Jerry Fouts. “I’m really angry that you are threatening my retirement. I’m scared just like everyone else in these harsh economic times.”
Much more at the link, including the comment:
Quote:
Just about all the quotes are from those enjoying these unintended extras.

Not surprising, anyone presenting the “taxpayer” perspective at such a meeting would be lynched. Don’t believe me ? Try it !

Well, here’s one taxpayer’s view …..

Stop it going froward & pay back the excess already paid.

We, the taxpayers are not YOUR servants (either) !

In general:
http://www.governing.com/column/clos...-pensions-next
Quote:
It's on California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's list of possible budget-gap closers: Increase employee contributions to pension plans by an additional 5 percent of salary. Across the country, Delaware Governor Jack Markell has it on his list, too. He is considering the politically-charged step of asking employees to pay more than their current 3 percent payroll pension contributions — an amount that is unchanged since 1976.

It's hard to think of a time since the Great Depression when states have been as cash-strapped as they are now -- with no end in sight. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities puts it, "As we look ahead to 2011 and beyond, even as the economy appears to be moving in the direction of recovery, states' fiscal prospects remain extremely weak. Indeed, historical experience and current economic projections suggest 2011 will be worse than 2010."

That being the case, it's no wonder states are looking everywhere for places to reduce costs and that pensions, which are now adding to annual budget woes, are an increasingly inviting target.

How much budget sense does it make to increase employee contributions? What are some other ways for states to tame their pension costs?
Go to the article to hear from Teresa Ghilarducci, who I pissed off once at a seminar at Columbia. Because I questioned about how well her ideas for replacing Social Security, DC plans, etc. would work. However, she does make good points in this interview, and she points to TIAA-CREF, and I agree that they have a good retirement plan model [note: I used to work at TIAA-CREF].
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Old 01-17-2010, 04:16 PM
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Mary Pat Campbell
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Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: NY
Studying for duolingo and coursera
Favorite beer: Murphy's Irish Stout
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Here's John Bury's answer to his POB quiz:
http://blog.nj.com/njv_johnbury/2010...iz_answer.html

Quote:
What's the flaw in the reasoning behind Pension Obligation Bonds? The 5% that the bonds pay off is guaranteed and a general obligation of the issuing government. The 8% that the pension fund is supposed to earn is a guess and, in New Jersey's case, a wildly unrealistic guess made by politicians with the meek approbation of the actuaries. Why is 8% a bad guess?

Consider one 70-year-old retiree expecting to draw $70,000 per year for life from an account that has $700,000 in it now. That's possible if you get at least 4% on the money. Can you get 8%? Absent hyperinflation, No. For starters you can't invest about half of that money in anything long-term since it will have to be paid relatively soon. With the liquidity requirement you're likely looking at half that fund being able to only get 2%. That means the other half would need to make 14% to meet your goals.

That is basically the situation New Jersey would be in if it had only retirees in the plan. There is roughly $7 billion a year being paid out to a quarter million retirees with about $70 billion left in the plan.
....
Taking all this into account using an 8.25% assumption, as New Jersey does, is unreasonable but necessary. Of course you might be able to get 8.25% over 30 years but the New Jersey plan doesn't have 30 years. With so little money coming in and substantial, and rising, payout obligations this plan will go ponzi within 5 years.
More at link. This is the issue, not only with POBs, but also discounting "for sure" liabilities at "for guess" assets. It's well-nigh impossible to explain the concept of asset/liability matching to non-finance types, but given that "super-smart" financial types also have a problem with the concept.....

For the rest of this post I'll focus on pure politics - i.e., what are political candidates running for office this year saying about public pensions right now?

Pennsylvania:
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10016/1028844-100.stm

Quote:
Six candidates for governor told a major teachers' union today that they support more state funds for public education and the state's commitment for teacher pensions, but only two of them mentioned specific ways to raise the billions of dollars that will be needed.
....
All candidates pledged support for public educational issues, such as increasing the state's share of school funding from the current 37 percent, increasing money for early childhood education programs and working with teachers and legislators to find the estimated $5 billion that will be needed, starting in mid-2012, to fully fund pensions for teachers and other school professionals.
So no taking of medicine in that crowd.

Let's check out the reality-based politicians in Illinois:
http://www.pjstar.com/featured_conte...crat-Dan-Hynes

Quote:
Predictably his challenger, current Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, 41, focuses on the latter, undone part of Quinn's agenda. He wastes no time characterizing Quinn's tenure as governor as "a failure," with a budget and economy "getting worse, not better." "It's not enough," he says, "to be not Rod Blagojevich." In some ways he makes a stronger anti-Quinn case than he makes a pro-Hynes one.
....
An attorney with an economics background, Hynes argues that as comptroller going on 12 years, he's been a consistent warning siren on the state's reckless spending. Hynes says he can say "no" to House Speaker Mike Madigan in a way that Quinn has proven he cannot, as he did in stopping payment on member initiatives - earmarks - in 2002. He says there would be no more pension holidays during a Hynes administration.

For his part, Quinn claims the state cannot balance its budget until it gets pension spending under control. He says he'll take on the public employee unions with a two-tier pension system that will lower retirement benefits for future workers. "I'm willing to do it; the other fella isn't," Quinn says. Hynes would put an end to double dipping - the practice of cashing checks from more than one public pension system - and curtail end-of-career pension sweeteners, but from where we sit, he does not go nearly far enough. In fact public pensions are way out of whack with a private sector that is paying most of the bills. It does cause us to do a double-take on his candidacy.

That said, promising is different than doing. The executive branch is but one appendage of state government; getting either pension reforms or an income tax hike through a Legislature that has heretofore been resistant to both, in a recession, may be beyond both these candidates.
More at link. Check out the use of the term "unprecedented" in the editorial used to endorse Hynes. Reminds me of the frequent use of that term in describing someone else's political failures.

Okay, I'll be dumping a lot more stories later.
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