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*** UPDATED x1 *** A big hole in Rauner’s pension plan

Wednesday, Oct 16, 2013 - Posted by Rich Miller

* We discussed Bruce Rauner’s pension idea yesterday….

He favors capping pensions that have already been earned and moving government employees to a defined benefit, 401(k)-type of retirement plan.

As I told you before, this idea is laid out in a bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Morrison

Amends the Illinois Pension Code. With respect to the 5 State-funded retirement systems: Provides a new funding formula for State contributions, with a 100% funding goal and amortization calculated on a level dollar amount.

Provides that no additional service credit may be accrued and no automatic increase in a retirement annuity shall be received. Provides that the pensionable salary of an active participant may not exceed that individual’s pensionable salary as of the effective date.

Provides that State-funded retirement systems shall establish self-directed retirement plans for all active participants and all employees hired on or after the effective date. Provides that all active participants shall have the option of participating in a self-directed retirement plan. Provides that these changes are controlling over any other law. Effective immediately.

* Rep. Morrison explained in an e-mail that this would not require Social Security payments…

No, SS payments would not be required because the total percentage contribution by teachers and their school districts (8% from teachers and 7% from school districts) exceeds the threshold that the SSA requires.

* i asked Aviva Bowen of the IFT for a response to the proposal…

Representative Morrison’s proposal would put teachers and other workers into risky waters without a raft. If the market crashes and our retirement security ship springs a major leak, private sector employees can stay afloat because they have Social Security benefits. Teachers don’t get Social Security and would drown, though Wall Street insiders like Bruce Rauner could make a killing by charging higher fees than the systems currently pay, all at taxpayers’ expense.

We also can’t forget that in our current fiscal situation, there are two ways for districts to pay this added cost: raising property taxes or slashing already slim school budgets.

That last point was quite interesting.

* Back to Rep. Morrison…

[The bill] would cost school districts 7% of their personnel costs.

* So, is this another version of the much-hated Democratic-sponsored “cost shift”? Morrison says it could be absorbed by a majority of districts…

(P)er their respective contracts, a majority of school districts already pick up some or all of the employee contribution to TRS, so a 7% contribution to a 401K type plan is very doable.

I agree it’s doable for those districts, but it would cost other districts more. A lot more.

* So, I asked Rauner’s campaign to comment on the very real probability that his pension reform plan would lead to local property tax hikes and/or local school budget cuts. I haven’t yet heard back, but I’ll let you know if they ever respond.

*** UPDATE *** I asked Teachers Retirement System spokesman Dave Urbanek if the Morrison bill would activate Social Security payments. His reply…

Rich:

The ultimate decision would be up to the Social Security Administration. The bill, as I read it, does not require teachers to be in Social Security, but state statutes would not be the last word in the discussion. It’s a federal decision.

It is our understanding that a major determining factor in that kind of decision is not the contributions made by the employee and the employer to a separate government-run retirement plan, but the ultimate benefit that the employee would receive in retirement from that government-sponsored plan. For working people who are not in Social Security, the SSA sets a “safe harbor” threshold that corresponds to the benefit that its members receive. We are told by our actuaries that if the benefit from a government-run plan for someone who is not in Social Security falls below the Social Security safe harbor threshold, then the SSA steps in and places those members into Social Security so they do meet the safe harbor.

That is the situation that we’re facing with Tier II members. This is something that has been publicized for more than a year. The TRS actuaries tell us that because the Tier II benefit grows at a slower pace than the Tier I benefit and the Social Security benefit, that in about a decade the Tier II benefit will fall below the safe harbor threshold and that the SSA will compel TRS members into Social Security. What we’re not sure of is how that happens, and whether the SSA would compel all TRS members into Social Security, or just the affected Tier II members. The actuaries never mentioned that the decision had anything to do with contributions paid by members. Tier II members right now pay the same 9.4 percent of payroll to TRS that Tier I members pay, but on an apples-apples comparison with payroll, the Tier II benefit is 6 percent of payroll, so the Tier II members are paying for their entire benefit. The Tier I benefit is 17.29 percent of payroll, so Tier I members are paying a little more than half of their benefit. The extra 3.4 percent contribution being paid by Tier II members right now automatically goes to subsidize Tier I benefits.

So, as a general rule of thumb, if the pension code is changed in any way to reduce benefits and because of those changes retiree benefits will someday fall below the safe harbor threshold, then when that happens the SSA will act to bring everyone into the safe harbor.

I hope this helps.

Dave

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44 Comments
  1. - Norseman - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 11:21 am:

    Rich, I’m glad you know not to hold your breath for a response.


  2. - CircularFiringSquad - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 11:23 am:

    CousinBrucey will probably want to have a referendum on it — like Marriage Equality
    Anyone else notice the boys at Chase just kicked in another $100 million fines for the London trading heists


  3. - Joe M - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 11:25 am:

    Rauner reminds me so much of Mitt Romney in the way that he is so out of touch with those who are not extremely wealthy like he is.


  4. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 11:26 am:

    –No, SS payments would not be required because the total percentage contribution by teachers and their school districts (8% from teachers and 7% from school districts) exceeds the threshold that the SSA requires.–

    Are you kidding me? Do you really think an employer can mandate a 401K participation to screw someone out of Social Security?

    I wonder why that hasn’t been tried before? Maybe because it’s absurd and illegal on its face?


  5. - skeptical spectacle - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 11:27 am:

    Taxes, in some form or another, are going to be going up regardless due to the fiscal mess we are in. It would be preferable and more palatable if tax increases are tied to a plan (whether Rauner’s or another one) which actually ameliorates the problem. Rather than tax increases and continued ineptitude in Springfield.


  6. - Obama's Puppy - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 11:31 am:

    The Districts that pay it can afford it maybe in Rep. Morrison’s tea party nirvana but what about districts on the financial watch list and places where this has been bargained away?


  7. - Joe M - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 11:34 am:

    ==It would be preferable and more palatable if tax increases are tied to a plan (whether Rauner’s or another one) which actually ameliorates the problem.==

    Rauner’s plan may ameliorate the State’s budget problems, but such a plan is morally and legally wrong. It ameliorates the State’s budget problems by inflicting great pain and risk of future pain on teachers, state, and state university employees. Thank goodness for things like Constitutions and contract law.


  8. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 11:37 am:

    ==Provides that no additional service credit may be accrued and no automatic increase in a retirement annuity shall be received.==

    So if you don’t opt in to the 401K plan as a current employee your retirement is locked into what you have accrued so far? I’m confused by this provision.


  9. - walkinfool - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 11:46 am:

    Morrison and his buddies wish that Social Security would go away anyway. Or does he now want to depend on it?


  10. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 11:53 am:

    Why is it now … I think Payton Prep Clouter Bruce Rauner is Jason Plummer, about 20 years from now?

    Food for thought…

    To the Post,

    Rep. Morrison,

    “If” I get this wrong, I am apologize.

    So the Property Tax increase is … good …especially in a the home markets, as they are?

    Will this pass Constitutional Muster?

    I know the Rauner Crew will get right on explaining how this will work.


  11. - Been There - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 11:54 am:

    === a majority of school districts already pick up some or all of the employee contribution to TRS===
    Those districts that pick up the employee share were bargained for with the teachers. So that means those teachers are now paying nothing (which is bargained for) and now they will be ok with taking a 7% hit to their take home pay? What kind of deal is that?


  12. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 12:11 pm:

    Is this one of the goofy ideas that Farmer Bruce is willing to shut down state government over?

    Because as we’ve seen over the last few weeks, shutting down government is a brilliant political tactic.


  13. - foster brooks - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 12:14 pm:

    The pension systems would collapse without current employee’s contributing into it, I’m this is what rauner wants.


  14. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 12:22 pm:

    The entire project here is to abolish the pension funds. We are now Wisconsin. And the big question you have to keep asking is just who, exactly will benefit from a 401K style retirement plan? Should that ever happen, public employees would HAVE to receive social security in addition to keep them afloat financially in down times. Folks with 401ks often forget they have a 2-pronged retirement plan. Teachers, at least have only their pension.


  15. - Anon. - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 12:47 pm:

    ==Are you kidding me? Do you really think an employer can mandate a 401K participation to screw someone out of Social Security?==

    State government employees are not required to participate in Social Security, if the state’s pension plan meets minimum requirements. Private sector employees and employers have no choice. Illinois opted in for regular state employees years ago, but not for university employees and local school employees. I’ve seen some speculation that Tier 2 retirement for teachers doesn’t meet the minimum requirements, but don’t know enough about the law or the facts to have an opinion. If Tier 2 or any “reformed” pension plan fails to meet the requirements, the universities or schools and their employees would find themselves having to pay social security tax in addition to making pension contributions,


  16. - mythoughtis - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 12:53 pm:

    In regards to the TRS Tier II employeees: Shouldn’t the legislators have thought of this or have had it thought about for them prior to voting on it? Oh, wait, that was the vote that was taken at midnight so that the whole thing was done in 24 hours start to finish.

    Sometimes it is better for politicians to slow down.


  17. - Ann - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 1:00 pm:

    Thanks for the real reporting on this, Rich, and in particular for soliciting the nuanced and extremely relevant response from Urbanek. This is what a real discussion looks like.


  18. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 1:08 pm:

    –It is our understanding that a major determining factor in that kind of decision is not the contributions made by the employee and the employer to a separate government-run retirement plan, but the ultimate benefit that the employee would receive in retirement from that government-sponsored plan.–

    Is there an “ultimate benefit” in a 401K? A guarantee? I don’t think so.


  19. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 1:14 pm:

    RE: teachers and social security

    NO. Even if a teacher has worked a myriad of jobs and has qualified for social security benefits on their own independent work merits, they may get zero or pennies from their work efforts and social security earnings due to the Windfall Elimination Provision, unique to few states, Illinois being one of them. A widowed teacher, collecting TRS having had a husband who worked for 37 years and paid into SS now can collect zero from his earnings due to the WEP. Even more reason why pensions, the sole retirement income, are tantamount to retirees survival.


  20. - Anon. - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 1:29 pm:

    ==Is there an “ultimate benefit” in a 401K? A guarantee? I don’t think so.==

    Again, I don’t know enough about the law to give any guidance, but it would not surprise me if offering teachers only a 401K type plan might not be sufficient to keep them out of Social Security for that very reason.


  21. - Tier 2 - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 1:36 pm:

    So the $500-$600 a month they take out of my monthly pay (for retirement only)is not for me? Who do I thank first? Wait, I should be the one getting the “Thank You”.


  22. - Veritas - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 1:39 pm:

    Rauner’s campaign slogan: “I’ll get back to you on that.”


  23. - Priceless! - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 1:42 pm:

    Rich,

    Can you elaborate on this point please - specifically how Rauner has and would benefit??? “…though Wall Street insiders like Bruce Rauner could make a killing by charging higher fees than the systems currently pay, all at taxpayers’ expense”.


  24. - mythoughtis - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 2:00 pm:

    Anonymous: The Windfall provision is due to the fact that they are teachers and NOT in the social security system as a result. If they were to be forced to pay into social security on their teachers salary (the possible result of being a tier II), then the windfall provision would not apply.


  25. - Dan Johnson - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 2:01 pm:

    I wonder how the Social Security benefit/cost compares to the Tier II benefit/cost through TRS and their investments/payouts. In other words, is Social Security a better deal than TRS Tier II? (Honest question, not spinning).


  26. - Bill White - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 2:13 pm:

    Admittedly this is a blogger’s opinion however the post is titled: “Will TRS benefits end up lower than Social Security benefits? Yes.”

    http://preaprez.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/will-trs-benefits-end-up-lower-than-social-security-benefits-yes/

    ===

    Previously, the IL General Assembly kicked the can down the road in an irresponsible manner.

    To enact “reform” that risks future violation of the Social Security safe harbor exception could very well be even more irresponsible.


  27. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 2:14 pm:

    mythoughtis

    My point is having earnined more than 40 quarters of social security, a person is not entitled to full social security benefits precisely because they are teachers, not because they didn’t pay into SS like everyone else. Their fair take on what they contributed is altered because they also collect a state pension. Terribly unjust. And my point about spousal SS benefits is what happened to a relative who collected TRS pension but got absolute zero from her spouse who contributed fully to SS for 37 years.


  28. - Southern Illinoisan - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 2:23 pm:

    Many university employees under the SURS “umbrella” are already covered solely by 401k programs and will not receive any additional pension payments from SURS or the State upon retirement. Eligibility for Social Security will undoubtedly be an issue for many of these employees upon retirement.


  29. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 2:38 pm:

    mythoughtis -

    The Windfall provision is due to the fact that they are teachers and NOT in the social security system as a result. If they were to be forced to pay into social security on their teachers salary (the possible result of being a tier II), then the windfall provision would not apply

    Oh yes it does apply. I had well way over 40 quarters paid in prior to WEP and because of the heavy penalties, I don’t bother to apply because I would receive close to or at zero.

    There are quite a few of us retirees out there who for many years and decades made payments to Social Security, who will never see a dime of it and who have never complained nor has there been much acknowledgement of it from the media or politicians.


  30. - Bigtwich - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 2:40 pm:

    –specifically how Rauner has and would benefit???–

    It allows him to monetize individuals pensions. If you think the consulting fees for a group are large think about all the individual fees that would be generated by those accounts. I have not in the past attributed this to Rauner individually but do believe that this pot of gold is providing extra momentum to the pension frenzy.


  31. - Ghost - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 2:46 pm:

    There is a critical peice of this plan that everyone is missing.

    The State was supposed to be putting 15%, minus the employee contributuon, of each employees income into the retirement system every year they worked. They State didnt make this contribution, whioch is why the retirment system is short funded.

    So 2 quick points, first the flaw. If you move evryone into a 401(k) style plan, the State has to come up imeediatlely with the money it hasnt been contributing, plus the interest/gains that money would have earned. The employees are vested in that value in the account already and have a right to that value, not just the employee contribution part without earnings. After all we want to treat these like 401 k accounts. So you need billions of dollars to make these accounts whole…. which is where we are now!

    Plus this shift donest actually reduce the unfunded liability, becuase you have to fund the the accounts up. And if the State Starts making its part of the 15% contribution off of salary that it always should have, its not saving any future money, its just doing what its supposed to. Plus all the people who have already retired would still need paid, and theri accounts still arent funded.

    So all this does it take the stability of a defined benefit plan which can wetaher markets ups and donws, and put it in uncertain 401(k) plans. If you ask a market expert they will tell you defined benefit plans outperfomr 401(k) anyway.

    The problem for the majority of the retirment problems is not the benefit provided, or the investment vehicle, its that the State didnt make its contribution, period. Imagine if we had 401k’s and the State kept skipping the employer contribution, promising to make it up later… then when later comes they say they cant afford it, and they will just cut the 401k benefits.

    Illinois is basically saying they want to be Enron, play fancy games with the employees retirment funds, then leave everyone destitute becuase of the games they played with the employees money.

    Let’s see a pension reform Bill that caps Madigans total take home in retirment at 30k a year and see if he is for tough cuts and no colas….or lets pay all employes the 120kish a year madigan (or higher for judges) will draw, and they too can be less concerned with changes in cola’s.


  32. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 2:47 pm:

    My mistake about the penalty of zero spousal benefits. It’s not the WEP that prohibited my relative from collecting a penny of spousal SS benefits after 37 years of contributions to SS. Its the Government Offset Provision. It’s as if 2 single people worked and lived in the house with no spousal benefits at all.


  33. - reformer - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 2:51 pm:

    The experiment with 401Ks during the last four decades shows that the majority of workers are worse off than they would’ve been with traditional pensions.


  34. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 2:52 pm:

    So is the Rauner/Morrison plan designed to screw folks out of the stability in retirement of their pensions and Social Security?

    But Farmer Bruce and the private equity gang/hedgies will gladly take their 2% off the top to invest other people’s money?

    If you can’t spot the chump the first time the deal goes round, you’re it.


  35. - Cook County Commoner - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 3:33 pm:

    What part of “shall not be diminished or impaired” in the state constitution’s pension protection language do these folks not understand? Switching investment risk from the state to the employee via a self-directed 401k is a blatant violation.
    As far as I can tell, the biggest winner from 401ks has been the mutual fund industry.
    401k plans are a flop for employees for three reasons: 1. most plans offer insufficient choices (an acceptable plan would offer the entire investment universe, not just a few mutual funds); 2. most people lack the skill to properly invest the money, and most financial planners are dolts;and, 3. most people lack the disciple to save for their own retirement. The foregoing will become self-evident as 10,000 or so folks turn 65 every day.
    I’m no fan of government employee pensions because of over-generous promises made in exchange for political support. But 401ks supplemented by meager Social Security are not the answer.
    Once upon a time, retirement was viewed as a three legged stool comprised of personal savings, a pension and Social Security. We need to go back to this model for everyone.


  36. - Chris - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 3:56 pm:

    “Rather than tax increases and continued ineptitude in Springfield.”

    I think that presents a false choice.


  37. - Cheswick - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 4:01 pm:

    Rauner must not realize the citizens, voters, taxpayers, and public union workers of Illinois, ain’t already been on for ride in the back of a turnip truck already. (Sorry for the poor grammar.)


  38. - Philo - Center of the Universe - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 4:50 pm:

    Anonymous
    RE:Government Offset Provision
    My wife is a SURS retiree and can’t get a widow benefit from my SS record which will be 40+ yrs of high wages.
    Her question now is that if she goes back to work,will she have to pay into SS even tho there is no way she gets anything back.


  39. - Andrew Szakmary - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 5:25 pm:

    The numbers given by Urbanek are very revealing. He says the total cost of providing Tier 1 benefits under TRS is 17.29% of payroll, of which the employee (or the school district) contributes 9.4%. So, simple subtraction reveals the total cost to the state of providing a Tier 1 TRS pension is 7.69% of payroll. Well, guess what: Walmart contributes a heck of a lot more. They match employee 401k contributions up to 6%, and pay the 6.2% employer portion of Social Security, for a total of 12.2% of payroll.

    If Rauner wants to introduce defined contribution pensions and is willing to contribute the same 12.2% of salaries that Walmart does based on future work, I suspect that most people would not have a big problem with that. But this would cost more than the current plan, not save the state money. This just underscores that all of the cost savings in his proposal come from denying retirees and employees their contractually-guaranteed 3% AAIs based on work already performed.


  40. - Andrew Szakmary - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 5:28 pm:

    Sorry, slight calculation error. Should have said cost to the State of providing Tier 1 TRS benefits is 7.89% of payroll.


  41. - Just The Way It Is One - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 7:44 pm:

    Are we really shocked? Rauner’s ideas are often way-off and out-of-touch! That’s what happens sometimes to people who are so much more immensely wealthy than 99% of the rest of the American Population!

    Oh, and to the rich Runner, I mean, Rauner, so greatly apprised in the ways/workings of the Business world in his solve-all approaches to everything that challenges the “Government” Sector as well:one more thing–401(k)s don’t solve EVERYbody’s retirement plans–shucks, if the U.S. Government fell off of the “Fiscal Cliff” which they pushed themselves to the brink of tonight, a LOT of those marvy 401(k)s would’ve been shot to smithereens!!!


  42. - lakecounty - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 8:36 pm:

    - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 2:38 pm:

    mythoughtis -

    The Windfall provision is due to the fact that they are teachers and NOT in the social security system as a result. If they were to be forced to pay into social security on their teachers salary (the possible result of being a tier II), then the windfall provision would not apply

    Oh yes it does apply. I had well way over 40 quarters paid in prior to WEP and because of the heavy penalties, I don’t bother to apply because I would receive close to or at zero.

    There are quite a few of us retirees out there who for many years and decades made payments to Social Security, who will never see a dime of it and who have never complained nor has there been much acknowledgement of it from the media or politicians.

    - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 2:38 pm:
    Please calculate your possible SS, as the longer (and the higher your salary) you have paid into SS, the less is the effect on the decrease of your SS amount. You may receive a couple of hundred dollars a month, enough to pay your Medicare premium and a couple of nights out on the town. And don’t forget to thank Ronald Reagan for the GPO and WEP.


  43. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Oct 16, 13 @ 10:55 pm:

    Ghost, where do you get the 15% number?


  44. - JI - Thursday, Oct 17, 13 @ 11:40 am:

    I know you know this, Rich, but you might want to point out two small facts.

    1. SURS already has a self-managed plan, which looks nearly identical to this proposal, for its employees. The plan was created about 15 years ago. The self-managed plan did not trigger Social Security.

    2. Alaska teachers are in a very similar plan, which has also not triggered Social Security.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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