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Only Wisconsin shows solid performance on state retirement funds [ClearOnMoney]
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Only Wisconsin shows solid performance on state retirement funds

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Commentary

Only Wisconsin shows solid performance on state retirement funds

7 Jan 2013 by Jim Fickett.

The Pew Center on the States makes a regularly updated summary on the condition of state retirement funds. This is useful not only to keep tabs on one of the major headwinds the whole nation will face over the next few decades, but also to get an idea of how one's own state, or a state to which one might want to move, fares relative to others. In 2012 Pew provided a 13 page summary report plus a one-page fact sheet on each state. (There is unfortunately no similar resource for city finances.)

Background information follows; the most serious limitation of the data is that Pew does not go beyond the unrealistic actuarial assumptions of the states. Still, this at least gives some idea of which states are in relatively better shape, and whether states are, on average, making progress.

Fiscal 2010 is the latest budget year for which complete numbers are available from all 50 states. …

Pew’s analysis of states’ public sector retirement benefit funding, its fourth since 2007, uses states’ own actuarial assumptions about how much money they expect the pension fund to earn, on average, on investments now and in the future. …

Pew assessed each state’s management of its pension and retiree health care obligations as of fiscal year 2010 based on funding levels and contribution policies. States were rated as “solid performer,” “needs improvement,” or “serious concerns.”

On average, the problem is still getting worse:

All told, state and local governments participating in state-run retirement systems should have set aside $124 billion in fiscal year 2010 to pay the recommended contribution for their pension and retiree health care obligations. Policy makers were able to make 78 percent of the recommended contribution toward their states’ pension plans but set aside just 34 percent of what actuaries recommend should be set aside to pay for retiree health benefits. …

States’ public sector retirement funding gap for both pensions and retiree health benefits grew by $120 billion, from $1.26 trillion to $1.38 trillion, from fiscal year 2009 to 2010.

The worst states are those for which both the pension program and the healthcare retirement program merit “serious concern”. These are: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island.

The condition of the pension program is more important than that of the healthcare program because the former is legally more difficult to modify. The most attractive states, then, are those for which the pension program merits the rating “solid performer”, and the retirement healthcare program is at least not in the “serious concerns” category. These (few) states are: Delaware, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Wisconsin is the only state of the union which receives a “solid perfromer” rating for both pensions and retiree healthcare.