Friday, July 26, 2019

Pension problems in Connecticut

The ALEC came out with its rankings of pensions, and Connecticut was the worst.

Connecticut ranks last with a dismal 19.7 percent funding ratio, down 3.1 percentage points from last year. Connecticut is one of four states to set retiree benefits through collective bargaining and is unique in that the legislature does not have to consent to contracts for them to go into effect.viii A total of 124 contracts have been passed without a vote in either chamber in the legislature 
Under these rules, politicians can abstain from making politically difficult decisions needed to protect taxpayers from future pension fund bailouts and retirees from the consequences of a future pension default. Such decisions could anger current public sector union membership, placing personal political careers at risk. In late 2016, Gov. Dan Malloy came to an agreement with the state employees union to extend the amortization period of the official unfunded liability to 2046. In other words, the state will delay paying down these liabilities.x Because the fund will have relatively fewer assets generating investment income over the next two decades as a result of this delay, a combination of higher taxes, reduced state services, and pension benefits cuts becomes more likely in future years. In addition, Connecticut continues to use an assumed rate of return in excess of 8 percent to estimate unfunded liabilities—more than 5.8 percentage points higher than the risk-free rate of return. Such baseless optimism threatens the state’s fiscal solvency.

The problem seems so obvious and easy to solve that one wonders why they don't try something like Wisconsin:

Relative to other states, Wisconsin is in a league of its own with a 61.5 percent funding ratio (using a risk-free rate of return assumption). The next most responsibly managed state pension system, South Dakota, is 13 percentage points less funded than Wisconsin. The state of Wisconsin does far better than others in pursuing retirement security to current and past employees, alongside fiscal responsibility to taxpayers. 
Wisconsin’s relatively high funding ratio is due in large part to the unique design of the state’s hybrid pension. A typical hybrid pension has a traditional DB and a defined-contribution (DC) 401(k) benefit, the proportions of which vary from plan to plan. Wisconsin’s hybrid plan does not have a 401(k) benefit portion, but instead pays an annual dividend based on the health of the pension fund and the age of the retiree.vii Unlike a traditional DB plan, which provides a payout regardless of fund performance, a performance shortfall does not necessitate higher employee and/or taxpayer contributions to make up an additional gap between assets and liabilities. With this hybrid plan, underperformance simply results in a lower annual dividend, avoiding an underfunding issue.

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