Saturday, December 10, 2016

Bill Crawford: PERS "mortgage" balloons

You know how a mortgage works right? You make your monthly payments and gradually your mortgage balance comes down.
 
Pat Robertson, Executive Director of the Mississippi Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS), tells legislators and retirees to think of PERS’ massive $16.8 billion funding shortfall as a mortgage: “Having an unfunded liability (deficit) is analogous to having a mortgage and making mortgage payments faithfully every month.” 
Well, PERS’ deficit “mortgage” does not work like yours and mine. Despite four years of payments, the balance has ballooned, not shrunk. And the number of years to pay off the mortgage has jumped from 30 to 40.6 years.
 
In October 2012 PERS increased public employer contributions to 15.75% of wages to start making those faithful mortgage payments on its then $14.5 billion deficit. Robertson assured all that this high rate would improve the funded liabilities ratio from 58% to 80% by 2042.
 
Four years later, the unfunded amount has risen from $14.5 billion to $16.8 billion and the time to reach the 80% funding level target has moved out to 2053.
 
In other words, four years’ worth of payments didn’t lower the “mortgage” balance any. Instead it increased by $2.3 billion and the mortgage’s term had to be extended, making it 40.6 years from its start in 2012.
 
Be aware of this, per Robertson in 2013: “GASB requires a maximum amortization period for the UAAL of not more than 30 years.”  (GASB means Governmental Accounting Standards Board; UAAL means Unfunded Actuarial Accrued Liabilities.)
 
So, PERS is out of compliance, again, with accounting standards.
 
To get in compliance without legislative action, PERS would have to increase employer contributions from 15.75% to 17.2% for 30 more years.
 
In an excellent analysis, blog site Jackson Jambalaya points to significant structural problems at PERS (http://kingfish1935.blogspot.com/2016/12/pers-continues-to-slip.html), concluding that, “The numbers that should be getting smaller are getting larger while the numbers that should be getting larger are getting smaller. In other words, PERS is going in the wrong direction.” 
 
Key findings cited in the blog include:
 
“The ratio of active employees to retirees is getting worse as it declined from 2.3 active employees/retirees ten years ago to only 1.5 in 2016.”
 
“The total amount of employee and employer contributions was $1.593 billion. However, PERS had to pay $2.48 billion to retirees.  The deficit between the contributions and payments was $886.8 million.”
 
“Investment income was only $217.8 million - not enough to cover the $886.8 million deficit. Thus PERS had to dip into assets to pay benefits. The total assets of the PERS portfolio fell from $24.8 billion last year to $24.1 billion in 2016.”
 
Read the blog, then download and read the 2016 Actuarial Valuation Report at www.pers.ms.gov.

Better yet, get your legislators to read them – the numbers not Robertson's customary rationalizations. Legislators are the ones who need to find the political courage to fix PERS's ballooning deficit. An ever higher employer contribution rate is not the fix needed.
 
 Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (crawfolk@gmail.com)

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work reporting on PERS. Nobody else is. When they don't have enough money to meet their obligations they will act surprised, pick a scapegoat and swear they could not have known that baby boomers were aging.

Anonymous said...

How do you fix it?

Anonymous said...

So hire more state employees and pay them nothing?

Take from them?

Wow

Anonymous said...

Excellent article by Mr. Crawford. Easy to read and follow, even for somebody who doesn't know anything about actuarial analysis or advanced accounting practices. And that's probably MOST of us, notwithstanding the claims made often on here.

I agree, though, with the poster at 9:32. It's high time for some thoughtful discussion on how to fix it. And I don't mean from the peanut gallery who says 'throw it all in the shitter' or 'these people don't deserve a pension anyway'. 'The system is an archaic and unworkable ponzi'. Move on...What will it take to fix it?

Anonymous said...

You have to hire more workers to pay into the plan.

Those new people have to pay more for longer and get less later.

It will work in a Trump economy.....as we go into a depression.

Anonymous said...

Haircuts all around, 9:52. Retirees will have to agree to accept less retirement money, taxpayers will have to agree to accept higher taxes. Regular people, in other words, will pay for what politicians have done or failed to do. And the world keeps spinning 'round and 'round...

Anonymous said...

We better start watching pers very closely. I have recently discovered that the pers deferred compensation program is also poorly run. And we are the only state that does not allow public entities to have a competitive deferred compensation option. This is a captive regulation demanded by pers not a state law. Pers does not want a competitor because they know there deferred compensation program would not fair well. Time to turn our attention to the management of pers.

Want to pay more said...

But, but, but...I admire my legislators so much I would be willing to fork over more taxes to make sure these hard-working part-timers get their enhanced slice of the pie. Can't we all agree on that? You know they deserve it.

Anonymous said...

The retirement system received an increase from the state from 12% to 12.93% and the employees increased their contribution from 7.25% to 9% per the 2010 legislative session. So both have been increased and it still isn't where it should be. I do want to point out that the majority of state employees have had a pay cut since 2008 with increases in income taxes, insurance, Social Security, retirement contribution, etc. Not that all employees actually deserve a raise, but I wanted to point out that this system is what keeps most of our better employees in the state.

Anonymous said...

Reduction in work force is the current agenda for state employees. Very likely FY 2018 will see many layoffs that will lower the PERS contribution even more.

Anonymous said...

1:06: "I have recently discovered that the pers deferred compensation program is also poorly run." Really? And you can back this information up in what way?

Let Them Eat Cake... said...

People like 10:18 should be banned from further posting ability. You can NOT reduce the current retirement income of current retirees, most of whom spent 30-40 years in that system and have been retired for 20 or more. That's a stupid-assed recommendation that comes only from a stupid-assed blog-reader. Not to mention the legal contractual obligations.

And then there are the ill-informed posters represented by 1:53 who actually wakes up and thinks he 'forks over taxes' to pay for the PERS system. He probably actually thinks when he buys that pack of hot dog weenies and case of Schaeffer Light every Friday night his taxes are going up to pay for state employee retirement.

Anonymous said...

2:31, PERS also got one hell of an increase in 2004 to make up for the shortfall, mostly coming from the nice retirement perk given to employees and retirees in 1999. That increase, along with the state increase in 2010 did come from taxpayers 'forking over taxes' despite what 3:49 has to say. The increases from the state came from the state general fund, and the only place that the government gets money is from taxes from the citizens. The policy added to retirement benefits with the 13th check wasn't 'part of the deal' as is often said that retirement benefits are but a nice way to give state employees a raise years ago.

State employees haven't gotten 'a raise' over the past few years and neither have most people in the private sector. But while they haven't been given an 'across the board' raise, many state employees have gotten a significant pay increase - renaming their job, adjusting their pin, etc. A majority of the professional end of state employees (not the janitors, or the road workers but those in offices) have actually seen their pay increase while there has been no inflation and despite the comment above, no increase in taxes.

Cry for me, poor state employee - your salary, benefits and tenure are still above and beyond what those that are paying taxes so that we can pay for you to perform your duties. If you aren't satisfied with the salary, or benefits, or retirement amounts, feel free to quit and come out in the real world and make a living.

Adjusting Their Pin My Ass.. said...

6:10....So little knowledge. So much anger.

Anonymous said...

6:10 is the repetitive chirper (or one of his clones) who rarely has anything constructive to say. He's short on fair and workable solutions but long on crap like 'fire them all' or 'get a real job' and 'State employees are sub-human anyway'.

Where is the backup for his claim that private sector employees are not getting annual increases? It's easy to prove that state employees have received only pissant, meager raises for forty years. Sure, there's that odd exception, but, over time, take a look at it. And while looking, notice the repetitive spells of three or more years at a time with no increase. Oh, but there's that whopping 'across the board' $35 per month raise that occurs every once in a while.

Turning this thing around does not necessarily mean red-lining pay increases for fifteen years and firing people.

Anonymous said...

In addition to not getting raises for 5 to 7 years, most state employees have seen their health insurance costs go up, so effectively they have watched take home pay go down. I don't care any more, because like most of the other quality employees, I left.

Anonymous said...

@ 7:16am

actually state employees health premiums have gone down since the ACA was enacted, however the legislature will increase employee contributions to give it the appearance the ACA has messed them over. It's internal sabotage at its finest.

But back to the story at hand. Many of us have been anonymously screaming that this sh*t known as the PERS fund will go belly up due to the actions of the Republican power structure that has been in place since the beginning days of Kirk Fordice.

Phil Bryant and Tate Reeves are the Hell Spawn to finish the job of the Heritage Foundation and ALEC's agenda of shutting down government and eliminating government jobs.

Phil Bryant has proposed in in FY18 budget to delete 1900 vacant positions from state government and to remove property rights for all state employees who are vested in PERS system.

One should consider that with those 1900 vacant positions many of them are due to people retiring and agencies not having the funding to refill those positions - which means that's 1900 people not paying into the retirement fund and if enacted - those 1900 positions will never contribute to the fund again.

If all state employees lose their property rights for FY18 and agencies proceed with terminating staff due to budget cuts, which the governor has proposed 3% cuts across the board, many agencies will lose those positions permanently at the same time, so that's more people not paying into PERS and at the sane time removing any potential contributors in the future by deleting the positions.

Phil Bryant and Tate Reeves are blowing up state government and doesn't care who gets hurt and how these moves affect our local economy.

Jackson, Madison, Ridgeland, Pearl, Brandon, and Flowood are state employees strongholds. Can you imagine the affect of these local economy's when more state employees lose their jobs, potential state retirees lose their retirement because they were terminated, or perhaps people who have retired from the state in the last 5 years end up having their pension affected because the state cannot meet its obligations?

Regardless of how you may feel about state employees; they are major contributors to a local economy in a states capitol, that goes for any in America.

Its still baffling that so many state employees, especially those in Rankin and Madison, voted for these ass hats that are seriously trying to eliminate their jobs and destroy the pension plan they work for.

Hope they learned their lesson now!

Anonymous said...

@ 3:49pm

"He probably actually thinks when he buys that pack of hot dog weenies and case of Schaeffer Light every"

LMAO!!!

Anonymous said...

@ 6:10am

"Cry for me, poor state employee - your salary, benefits and tenure are still above and beyond what those that are paying taxes so that we can pay for you to perform your duties. If you aren't satisfied with the salary, or benefits, or retirement amounts, feel free to quit and come out in the real world and make a living."

You don't have a f*cking clue on what many state employees deal with, better yet how cheap their labor really is for the state of Mississippi!?

You have people with bachelor's degrees in Health Care administration working as Nursing Assistants making $15k a year, while in the private sector its double that.

Their are attorney's working at agencies with staff up to 20 people making $40k a year - while their contemporaries in the private sector with the same responsibility making $125k or more

A majority of state employees do double the work, with the lowest wages in the nation. The only saving grace was the retirement and work/life balance state employment offered. All that has diminished in the last 30 years - which has been under conservative anti-government, anti-worker legislation.

The only state employees to see regular salary increases have been at the Department of Public Safety, due to the general public and mass media always coming to their rescue stressing how difficult their jobs are. While the rest of state employees have been waiting for cost of living increase since 2007.

Anonymous said...

9:18, There is a very good reason why the people you are feeling so sorry for continue to work state. I know one of those working in the health care field. Her pay was decent but she had several other checks coming in. She got paid mileage that was much more than her pay. Also got a good per diem check. She was working as a nurse in the private sector before going to work for the state. The money included in all three checks was double what she was bringing in while working in the private sector.

Anonymous said...

@3:49. You absolutely can reduce benefits for current participants/beneficiaries in the same way the legislature gave participants a large increase in 1999 when they were flush with cash. PERS needs to look at reverting to the 1 7/8% & 2% per service year benefits they had for years. The ever increasing unfunded balance reflects paying participants more than they are contributing. That amounts to stealing from the future to pay for the present.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Let Them Eat Cake, you seem to be the smartest person out here. What's your recommendation? The poster at 10:18 at least offered something, even if it goes against your way of thinking. All you're doing is bitching about other posters. Try suggesting something constructive.

Cake Person Here.. said...

HEY 11:22 - I'm 'Let Them Eat Cake'. I have posted several times that I don't know the solutions but am open to workable ones and I've asked many times for productive solutions instead of 'the sky is falling' and 'fire them all'. If you consider those 'solutions', then you're part of the problem.

When you get a round-table of quality, determined, serious people to come up with solutions, the first thing a good manager does is clear the damned room of the squawkers and naysayers and those who would load up a firing squad and shoot all the worthless dweebs in the system. We need those asshats OUT OF THE ROOM. As long as they clog up the Calliope's pipes, the damned thing will never play again!

PS: I know teachers whose premiums DID NOT go down with the ACA, so that is NOT a universal truth, if at all. Their deductibles also went UP.

Kingfish said...

Keep in mind PERS includes more than just state employees. County and Municipal employees are part of the system. Public School, Community College, and University employees are part of the system as well. The number of active employees has dropped from 162,804 in 2007 to 154,104 in 2016. However, the actual payroll is slightly larger in 2016 than it was in 2007. It increased from $5.2 billion to $6.0 billion. See page 7 of report for data. However, the accrued liability increased from $26.9 billion to $42 billion in the same time period.

Anonymous said...

Good Point,KF. Yes, these people who some regard as slovenly and no-count are running your municipal and county offices plus schools, junior colleges and universities. But, according to the wisdom of some of the geniuses on here, they all need a 'haircut'.

And thankfully Tater-Peel and Pheel can't fire them all by removing their status protection.

Anonymous said...

1. Provide the COLA monthly rather than lump sum
2. Make the COLA bi-annual
3. Increase current employee contribution to 10%
4. Find new managers for the fund
5. Increase state income tax 1% and use it to balance debt
6. Convert new employees to 401k similar to fed system

Anonymous said...

9:08 - What is a fed system 401k?

What would be accomplished by 'providing a monthly COLA' rather than an annual COLA? There is already the option for monthly. If paid monthly, though, the system operators lose the ability to invest that money.

Anonymous said...

Tthe problem comes down to not finding the benefits. It has nothing to do with numbers of workers etc. Increase both employer and employee contribution. No doubt in my mind that the state political leadership wants to not meet its obligation to pay these benefits.

Anonymous said...

Just want to chime in to say I'm a state employee and take home $1000 a month after putting $100 in a flex medical spending account. I didn't make the cutoff to retire after 25 years either, I have to wait 30. 9:40 pretty much hit the nail on the head- just pass the buck on to millenials who are so desperate for a "living" wage for that useless liberal arts degree, which I personally got because "teachers always have jobs." I taught for three years, two in JPS. Let me tell you about the time I had to file with the EEOC for racial discrimination and got my right to sue letter. Good times in JPS.

I am now supposedly "living the dream" of teachers - taking home a whole $1000 a month. As you can see, us typical state employees are just rolling in the taxpayer dough (I pay income taxes too by the way- not sure why 6:10 seems to think state employees are exempt from this).

Oh well, I know my position hasn't gotten any sort of raise in the past eight years and I've been warned not to expect one for the next ten, but I have high hopes for 2027.

Anonymous said...

@ 9:35am

"It has nothing to do with numbers of workers etc."

Um, yeah it does!?

Hey, Let Them Eat Cake.. said...

OK, math majors and those with enough sense to calculate this...I would like to see two things:

1) In order to bring the system in line with what is considered a reasonable position, and assuming no employees are added or removed from the system, and no benefits are tinkered with, how much of a contribution increase (percentage) would be required, pro rata, from both the employee and the employer? When calculating this, assume that the percentage difference between employee and employer must remain the same.

2) In order to bring the system in line with what is considered a reasonable position, and assuming that employer and employee contributions are increased only 50% of the amount derived in (1) above, how many new entrants would have to be brought into the system at, say, an average annual compensation of $38,000 per year.

Is it possible to work with these two scenarios without adding ten other variables and 'what ifs'? Just assume, if you will, that all other things are constant and no other variables are introduced or anticipated. Please don't yuck up the formulas by insisting that things have to be considered like rates of inflation, the average ages of retirees, how many have younger spouses and the cost of donuts in Madison.

Anonymous said...

I agree The pers defferred comp program needs to be changed! High fees, low returns, and never has anyone from pers called on me to help provide guidance or details about the fund. Option sounds good to me!!!! Can we start now?!

Anonymous said...

You can withdraw your deferred comp and put it somewhere else can't you. A 401k is required by law to provide, at minimum, annual counseling or at least a presentation of the fund's stability with options for you to make elections. The Deferred Comp Plan doesn't fall under that rule.

Anonymous said...

University faculty can opt out of PERS by paying a small penalty. When I started working twenty years ago faculty by in large joined PERS. Now, I don't know of a single faculty member who has joined. All the talk of the great benefits means nothing to incoming folks who don't believe it will be there and also know that we are stepping stone job to a much better gig out of state in a couple of years. My husband can retire in one month. We have always believed that retiring in your mid-forties and drawing for more years than you put in was immoral. We still do, but the writing is on the wall and the reality is that he should take one of the higher paying private sector jobs (believe it or not plenty of state workers have skills in demand) so that we can bank the retirement and actually get something out of what we have earned. And, Deferred Comp has its problems but with faithful investing at a much reduced rate than our PERS contribution our accounts have done well. I would much rather be all in on Deferred Comp where we have some control. Another possible tweak to the system is not allowing workers to bank more than a certain number of weeks towards retirement. We will both be eligible far before putting in the required 25. Now, the state isn't going to want to let people cash in vacation like some of our corporate counterparts but those weeks are worth far less in cash on the front end than paying them out on the back end. When you start out as a teacher making 13,000 a year and then end up making a decent salary at the end (left the classroom) paying out those vacation days at 13,000 makes a lot more sense. I also think the salary calculation should be changed to cover more than three years.

Anonymous said...

Not going to waste my time looking for who asked the question, if you want to know who the fund advisors are look in the 2016 annual report beginning on page 92.

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