Sunday, October 13, 2019

Bill Crawford: PERS Tries to Stay Invisible Until After Elections

Did you get a glimpse Mississippi's invisible black hole? It briefly appeared over the past year in the Bigger Pie Forum, an Associated Press article by Jeff Amy, and the Jackson Jambalaya blog.


"The Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi is a ticking fiscal time bomb," headlined the Bigger Pie story.

"Analysis: Public retirement plan pressure won’t end soon," was the headline on Amy's article.

"PERS Results Delayed," read the headline in Jackson Jambalaya.

Afterwards, Mississippi's political and financial black hole, PERS, disappeared again, until last week when Jackson Jambalaya wrote,”Will PERS Need More Money?”

PERS' leadership really wants to keep it invisible until after November elections, so delayed release of its usual October evaluation report until December.

No surprise, politicians in both parties want it to stay invisible too.

Here's why.

Despite good investment returns recently, things aren't looking so good for PERS.

Back in April PERS' actuary, Cavanaugh Macdonald Consulting LLC, gave the board an ominous investigative report. "The purpose of the investigation was to assess the reasonability of the current PERS economic assumptions and demographic actuarial assumptions," says the cover letter.

Turns out a number of those assumptions are no longer so reasonable and need to change. And the impact of those changes will not be good.

Remember, PERS recently made two other big changes. It lowered its 30-year projection for future investment returns from 8% to 7.75% to bring that assumption more in line. And it jumped its contribution rate for employers (paid with tax dollars) from 14.75% to 17.4%, saying that extra $100 million in revenue annually would overcome funding shortfalls and the lower projected earnings.

Well, the April actuary recommendations would make PERS do much more:

· Lower projected future investment returns, again, to 7.5%;

· Increase retirement rates, meaning PERS payouts will increase;

· Forecast more younger employees to drop out and withdraw their contributions early, again increasing PERS payouts; and

· Increase the rate for future administrative expenses.

Hmmm. More out and less in. That can't be good.


It's not, especially with PERS' existing structural flaw of too many retirees drawing out and too few current employees paying in. The report said that if PERS adopts all of its recommended changes the funded liability ratio would once again drop below 60%.

Worse, PERS' promise to legislators that the new 17.4% employer funding rate would get PERS to full funding by 2047 will fall far short.

Since the Legislature only gives PERS one option to improve its financial position, i.e., increase employer contributions (paid with tax dollars), PERS may have to up that already too high rate, again.

No doubt the PERS board is reluctant to adopt these needed changes, but even more reluctant to make the need for them public during election time.

Another thing to keep quiet. The actuary's study documented that price inflation has averaged well below PERS' 3% COLA rate since 1987 and below 2% since 2007.

Even though many want the PERS black hole to stay invisible, they can't keep it quiet. There’s that huge sucking sound that comes from hundreds of millions of dollars pulled from taxpayer wallets to keep it afloat.

"For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open," Luke 8:17.

Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Increase employee contribution a little and employer contribution a little. Do it each year until funding level rises. Change 4 year average earnings to 8 years, or 10. 4 years is too little. Don’t add the extra 30 days per year to time served for elected officials. That is a scandal.

Anonymous said...

You'd think the retirees and employees would want this front and center right now BEFORE the election. Those groups continue to be their own worse enemies. They won't pull their ostrich heads out of the ground at their own demise.

Anonymous said...

You can't increase the employee contribution when there have been no raises. Benefits go up every year so the check is already smaller. I agree with changing the average earnings. Gradually move it up over the next 5-10 years so it is a true average. Gradually increase the year the compounding COLA starts from 55 until it hits 65. Cap the number of weeks of vacation/sick leave that can be used towards retirement. These are all small changes that should yield results. And, if you paid people what they were worth they might stay longer than have too. Teachers used to work well past their required years of service. I can't remember ever hearing of a teacher retiring during the school year. Now, they leave as soon as they have the number of days in even if it is the middle of October. Acknowledge that when you have a shrinking government you are going to have to pay more in for awhile until things balance out.

Anonymous said...

How much has the MHP and SLRP borrowed from PERS?

Anonymous said...

Who is supposed to do the things to fix it? Is it the Legislature or the Board? Do both bodies have the same power? What has to be done in the law and what can be done in regulations?

Is the COLA in the law? If so, can it only be changed by the Legislature, or can the Board do anything with it?

Anonymous said...

@1:16 PM Only the legislature can change the COLA or the employee contribution rate. The PERS Board can change the employer rate, which they did effective July 2019.

Anonymous said...

It would help if the 'comp time provision' in federal law were revisited. As it is, DOL regulations allow the accumulation of compensatory time in the public sector (but not the private sector). Thousands of state employees, primarily at the top of each agency (including supervisors, managers and department heads) are allowed to accumulate unlimited comp time. Legally and technically, this means that employee can take that time off later at the rate of 1.5 hours for each hour of comp time - like overtime for private sector employees.

This means that rather than taking their leave time (personal time) off for days off and vacation, they can 'take' their assumed (and often bogus) comp time instead, thereby leaving their leave untouched. The result is that the agency pays out the untouched leave time at retirement and the personnel system grants the retiring employee a year of credit for 205 days of accumulated sick and personal leave.

Why does that matter? It matters because with yet another year of service credit they draw an even larger retirement check.

Comp Time is bull shit. Many supervisory staff members in all agencies rarely (if ever) touch their personal leave time (used to be called vacation days) and they rack up to retirement years.

But, until 'we' address the SLRP program and the separate system for MHP, we will never begin to restructure this system. And all you arm-chair financial wizards probably never heard of this.

Anonymous said...

"How much has the MHP and SLRP borrowed from PERS? October 13, 2019 at 1:00 PM"

What the hell are you talking about?

Anonymous said...

Like any difficult decision, the easiest thing to do is nothing. Plus our good for nothing/do nothing legislature will never vote to do anything that affects their slurping at the public's hog trough.

Anonymous said...

I believe Bigger Pie said the 13th Check (the COLA) was first granted in 1999 as a discretionary outlay since the Trustees found $100,000,000 was just laying around. Now the COLA costs us $650,000,000 each year.

Since the Trustees granted the COLA, then why can only the Legislature abandon it?

Anonymous said...

"Since the Trustees granted the COLA, then why can only the Legislature abandon it?"

Because it became part of a written employment contract. An employee or retiree handbook is a legally binding contract.

Try to pay attention.

Anonymous said...

Where's the 'haircut guy' this beautiful Monday morning? Buying penny stocks?

Anonymous said...

SLRP is wrong! Downright unethical. But it’s not the reason PERS is drastically underfunded.

Giving retirees a 3% cola while employees paying into the system get zero cola is a third grade math word problem. But how many legislators can articulate a third grade math solution? Either party?

Anonymous said...

There will be haircuts for PERs recipients when there are haircuts for bondholders. I hope haircut guy really doesn’t want to go there.

Anonymous said...

12:19 and 6:18, public employees keep harping about all the sacrifices they make to serve the taxpayers, perhaps a larger employee contribution is one of those sacrifices public employees will have to make to hang on to their plumb retirement benefit. If you can’t live on your salary, either cut your expenses or get a higher paying job - THAT’S a third grade math problem. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Anonymous said...

In Mississippi, a handbook can be changed with notice. The trustees can provide notice - it doesn't have to go through the legislature. See The Orchard decision by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Your turn gene yus.

Anonymous said...

6:18 Sez: "...while employees paying into the system get zero cola..."

HELLOOooooo - Think about what you posted. A cola, whether correct in its form or not, is an ADJUSTMENT to a retirement benefit. 'Employees paying into the system' are not yet retired. Why would they get an adjustment to a retirement benefit when they're not receiving one in the first place?

Ima Baker said...

"You can’t have your cake and eat it too."

Sure you can! If you're a legislator. The legislature owns the cake-factory.

Anonymous said...

Here's a great start: put MHP on a 30 year retirement just like all the rest of the (real) cops in the state.

Anonymous said...

"In Mississippi, a handbook can be changed with notice."

But, until then, Doodle-Bug, it is what it is...A valid contract. While you and others claim it's not.

The part you don't understand is that retirees cannot have their benefits withdrawn by the redrawing of a handbook. Future retirees, yes. Current retirees, nope.

Your suggestion seems to be "Oops, we changed our mind and withdraw the contract under which you retired".

Signed - Gene

Anonymous said...

@ 12:07 a.m. - You might want to read Bobbitt vs The Orchard yourself. First, the case, and appeal is, at its heart, about an employer's right to terminate where there exists a handbook and certain policies. The employer (Orchard) held that since Mississippi is an 'at will' state, they could ignore their written handbook policies and terminate employment, regardless.

The Supremes ruled that an employer is obligated to follow its written (contractual) policies and procedures.

"We hold in this case that because the manual was given to all employees, it became a part of the contract. It did not give the employees "tenure," or create a right to employment for any definite length of time, but it did create an obligation on the part of The Orchard to follow its provisions in reprimanding, suspending or discharging an employee for infractions specifically covered therein."

But thank you for your "Apples and Transmissions" comparison.

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