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Great return, higher unfunded liability, lower contribution

Thursday, Oct 31, 2013

* First, the good news from a TRS press release

Teachers’ Retirement System investments generated a positive 12.8 percent rate-of-return during fiscal year 2013, net of fees, a result that exceeded internal custom benchmarks set for the $40 billion portfolio.

* Now, the bad news

Yet, despite these high returns for the year ended on June 30, the System’s unfunded liability officially rose during the 12 month period to $55.73 billion from $52.08 billion at the end of FY 2012. The TRS funded ratio at the end of FY 2013 was 40.6 percent as calculated under state law and 42.5 percent using the market value of the System’s assets. The higher unfunded liability reflects another year of contributions from state government that fell short of full, actuarially-based funding. […]

“The contribution from the state that is required by the law continues to be far short of the amount required to ensure our long-term sustainability,” Ingram said. He noted that in order to prevent any increase in the unfunded liability during FY 2015, the state contribution would have to be $5.3 billion.

“Without changes to the pension code to ensure sustained and adequate funding, TRS faces the very real possibility that in a few decades the System will not have enough money to pay benefits to retirees. We cannot guarantee that TRS will have enough money to pay the pensions promised to every member in the System.”

In other words, we’re not yet at the top of the ramp.

* But

Based on the System’s funded status, the TRS Board of Trustees gave preliminary approval to a $3.412 billion state contribution for fiscal year 2015, a contribution that is slightly lower than the $3.438 billion state contribution for the current fiscal year.

Total TRS assets at the end of FY 2013 were $39.479 billion, an 8.7 percent increase in total assets from one year ago at the end of FY 2012 — $36.311 billion. At the end of September TRS assets totaled $40.97 billion.

And here’s why

The statutory state contribution for FY 2015 is calculated under a state formula that does not meet the requirements of standard actuarial practices used in other states.

Because of that difference, the state’s statutory pension contribution never matches the funding level that an actuary would recommend to fully cover the cost of pension in that year. In FY 2014, the state’s statutory contribution to TRS is $3.438 billion. Using actuarial standards, the contribution to TRS would be $4.046 billion. In FY 2015, while the statutory contribution is $3.412 billion, the actuarially-calculated contribution would be $4.062 billion.“

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - foster brooks - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 9:48 am:

    Hate to say it but those 20% end of career raises and now the the standard 6% for 4 years are not helping. A good start on pension reform would put the school districts on the hook for those end of career raises.

  2. - Secretariat - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 10:00 am:

    Our unfunded liability is continuing to go up, but the good news is that the Senste President assures us we are not in a crisis.. Works for me

  3. - JustMe_JMO - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 10:04 am:

    Who came up with the “state formula that does not meet the requirements of standard actuarial practices”?

    Anyone give any thoughts to changing it?

  4. - wordslinger - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 10:16 am:

    –“Without changes to the pension code to ensure sustained and adequate funding, TRS faces the very real possibility that in a few decades the System will not have enough money to pay benefits to retirees.–

    How many decades are we talking?

    How many decades has this been going on?

    How many payments have been missed to now?

    What changes in benefits are required to keep the system solvent under statutory contributions? Under actuarial contributions?

  5. - Precinct Captain - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 10:27 am:

    Casino revenue for paying teacher (or cop or state worker) in his or her old age? That’s one idea that came to mind for me. It probably wouldn’t do much, but this is a pretty big problem and no one seems to be on the same page. But what I’m really wondering is why the state’s pension assumptions/recommended contributions are so different from actuarial and market assumptions/recommended contributions? It is one thing to short the systems, it is another to be fundamentally on a different plane for what contributions should be.

  6. - A guy... - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 10:39 am:

    People are living longer. Salaries are much higher. Realistic adjustments based on these facts need to be made and should have been made steadily along the way. If someone retires at 55, it isn’t unusual for them to be collecting longer than they’ve worked. The state is guilty for missing their payments, but it goes well beyond that. Everyone’s gotta do a little more. Later retirement, greater control of payouts, a higher contribution commensurate with defined benefits, and judicially mandated payments by the state. Ingram has been pretty realistic. That has caused him no shortage of criticism. The way I read this is that the contribution is calculated at over a billion short for next year alone. The real world actuaries do take into account what’s really occurring. I’d believe them.

  7. - JAFTC - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 10:46 am:

    ==Teachers’ Retirement System investments generated a positive 12.8 percent rate-of-return during fiscal year 2013==

    VTI Vanguard Total Index 2013 return 21.31%. Management fees 0.05%.

  8. - PublicServant - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 10:54 am:

    Word. Those questions are spot on. Maybe someone in the media…maybe Rich?…ought to pin this Ingram guy down, and make him clarify his quite careless statements. What a moron.

  9. - wordslinger - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 10:57 am:

    So much of the “pension crisis” debate is academic. It presumes any “solution” arrived at today — if it’s eventually found Constitutional — will be lived up to by future General Assemblies.

    There’s no reason to believe that. In “pension crisis” past, “solutions” were instituted that presumed that future General Assemblies would stick to the funding program. We all know how that’s turned out.

    It’s very difficult to bind future General Assemblies to live up to long-term annual appropriation or spending plans.

    About the only thing you can do for sure is make your statutory payments in the here and now, which is what the state currently is doing, and is what has people howling.

  10. - RNUG - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 10:58 am:

    I had noticed bascially the same facts this story highlights the other day while reading part of the TRS 2012 financial report. They’re pretty much burning through money (payments / increased liability) faster than it is being earned / contributed.

  11. - PublicServant - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 10:59 am:

    @A guy. They did that for new hires in 2011 bud. It’s not gonna happen for current employees, especially pensioners. They might try. I’ll see them in court. If you had a contract, you’d feel the same way. How long have you been paying taxes in Illinois? Those taxes were lower than they would have had to have been, if the pensions weren’t a convenient honeypot. You’re welcome. Time’s up. Your loan is due. Pay up.

  12. - thechampaignlife - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 11:21 am:

    @JAFTC - That’s not an entirely fair comparison. The Vanguard return covers a different time period (FY13 vs CY13-to-date). TRS’ return still probably lags, but of course the more relevant number is the long-term performance (10+ years).

  13. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 11:24 am:

    If Mr. Ingram doesn’t think his agency will be able to meet its responsibilities, then perhaps the state no longer needs him.

    Step one in retirement reform.

  14. - DuPage - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 11:25 am:

    It seems the pension crises is being distorted. When they say “we owe 100 billion” they leave off the part “over the next 40 years”. The highest payments were the last couple of years, they are projected to level off. Even Quinn had to admit his “costing 17 million a day” has now become “5 million a day”. The could adjust the ramp, and make their payments without doing anything else to the benefits.

  15. - thechampaignlife - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 11:27 am:

    One option I’ve not heard anyone discuss is allowing employees to buy out their retirement, either by providing a lump sum option (possibly while still employed), allowing employees to purchase additional service credits to retire early, or even just allowing them to retire before a normal retirement age at a much reduced benefit. The State could highly discount the lump sum payment such that it saves over the actual pension cost. For buying service credits, they could charge a premium to more than cover the cost to provide the longer-term pension.

  16. - Anonymous - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 11:29 am:

    ….retire before a normal age….

    I have to laugh. New teachers are rethinking their career choice for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is this witch hunt. I’d say run as fast as you can.

  17. - Federalist - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 11:44 am:

    How much will the state ‘owe” due to ever expanding Medicaid enrollments, particularly with the expansion under ACA?

    Funny, that issue is never brought up. And if anyone really thinks that is not an unfunded liability then you must assume that this program will be cut or eliminated in the future. Fat chance!

    Yet the politicians and MSM refuse to address this program that has swamped Illinois and other state budgets for the past four decades. The Chamber of Commerce even backed the expansion of Medicaid under ACA. So I guess they are not worried about the state budget.

    By the way, the IMRF issued the “13th check” in July of this year. It was based upon 37% of the normal monthly amount. Still plenty of money in IMRF evidently. Must be what happens when local governments are required to pay the bill each year with no phony IOU’s.

    Again, no mention of this by the politicians and MSM.

  18. - DuPage - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 11:48 am:

    It seems Mr. Ingram is trying to be a cheerleader on behalf of politicians who want to cut pensions. If you want them to believe propaganda, keep telling them (retirees) something long enough, over and over, and they will believe it. “If the head of a retirement system says it, it must be true” think some of the elderly retirees.
    He is trying to “soften up” resistance among retirees getting their cost of living cut.
    He should tell retirees they are being financially endangered by the proposed cuts, who wants the cuts and names and numbers of both local and Springfield offices.

  19. - Norseman - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 11:55 am:

    I have to echo Words 10:57 am comment. If the State Constitution can’t prevent the diminishment of pension benefits, nothing the General Assembly can do will prevent future abuses by irresponsible politicians.

  20. - walkinfool - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 11:56 am:

    Ingram is usually one of the few honest sources with real numbers. This statement could have been much better defined and clear, however.

  21. - Soccertease - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 12:00 pm:

    Amazing how the crisis is no longer a crisis when we start talking higher taxes. The actuarially required contribution (ARC) has never been paid by the state I don’t believe. The problem is that for many years the legislature did not even fund the statutorily required contribution that was ridiculously low. No, we don’t need to fully fund the ARC, but at least make the statutorily required contribution reasonable and then actually pay it!

  22. - DuPage Dave - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 12:01 pm:

    Federalist- Medicaid expansion under the ACA is 100% federally funded. After a few years it drops to 90%. For the period of 2014 to 2022 the average federal share is 93%. So there are other things to worry about more.

  23. - DuPage - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 12:02 pm:

    Actually a lot of these employees in the non-social security pension systems never cost the state a penny. In fact the state makes money off of them. Many employees work for a few years, not enough to get a pension. They are entitled to get a refund of only what they put in, plus a PORTION of the interest made on their money. Total contributions by the employer=zero. The PORTION of the interest NOT REFUNDED to the employee=profit to the state.

  24. - skeptical spectacle - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 12:06 pm:

    The obvious and inevitable solution to this mess will be the cost shift to local districts. However, this will KILL many local districts who will not be able to pay the benefits either.

    There will have to be a cost shift to local districts and at the same time they will have to reform the pension program so that, going forward, local districts have a say in what kind of pension program they wish to provide to their teachers.

    If the state shifts the pension costs to the local districts without giving the local districts some sort of input into the type of pension program they want to offer (allow them to change it, going forward), it will devastate many school districts.

  25. - DuPage - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 12:28 pm:

    @skeptical spectacle, I think just the opposite should be done in regards to districts changing pensions. The districts always have had ways to influence pensions and they abused it. They gave huge raises to high up administrators and some of their favorite teachers. At the same time they would do things to lower the pensions as a form of punishment to the ones they don’t like. (Examples, cut the additional assignments of coaching, summer school teaching, overtime for hourly university employees, etc.. This causes the employees pension to be lower then it would normally been. So the employees have paid in to the retirement on the extra work they have done for many years and then don’t get anything for it.

  26. - archimedes - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 12:42 pm:

    Couple of things:

    1. We have reached the point in the Pension Ramp Law where annual payments by the State are a constant percent of salary into the future (except for the change made in the law when the bonds are paid off). We no longer are increasing that % from year to year. That is why the payments are projected to grow a little each year(they grow at the same % as salaries increase).

    2. The unfunded liability will increase EVERY year until about 2032. That is the first year the State will pay the Normal Cost, plus the full interest on the unfunded liability (the ARC).

    3. The earnings rate of 12.8% is well above the assumed rate of 8%. Therefore, the unfunded liability (for this year) grew much less than projected, and the State’s payment for next year is less than projected.

    4. Over the long term - this one year of higher than projected earnings doesn’t mean anything. Just as the lower than expected earnings last year didn’t mean anything in the long term. No need to crow this year, just as there was no need to panic last year.

    4. We still have a problem in this State. The pension structure is sound (benefits paid = contributions plus income earnings) on a current basis. However, the legacy of underfunding the last 50 years (there was a $2 billion unfunded liability back in 1970) combined with not paying the full ARC even now (we are not paying the interest on the unfunded liability - per statute, the 1995 pension law) means we have a huge debt that will continue to grow into the future.

    Our problem is not the pension structure - it is how we can possibly get the large debt for benefits that have already been earned paid off. You either pay it - or you diminish the benefits that have already been earned.

  27. - Anon. - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 12:59 pm:

    ==The State could highly discount the lump sum payment such that it saves over the actual pension cost.==

    Hey, sign me up to sell my pension for 20% of what it’s worth! Like pension “reform,” this proposal only saves money by cheating the retiree.

  28. - RNUG - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 1:02 pm:

    thechampaignlife @ 11:27 am:

    They tried the buyout idea in 2002 for SERS when they had a FY13 budget “crisis”. It worked … they managed to move about 11,000 employees (about 14% of the actual State work force) off of GRF and onto the underfunded pension systems … which somewhat accellerated the pension “crisis”. But it didn’t do much of the State budget. it was just a couple of years later Blago was doing his $10B “pension bond” slight of hand. It let Blago slide through a couple of budget years but it wasn’t a good deal for the State … we’re still paying for it.

  29. - RNUG - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 1:04 pm:

    DuPage Dave @ 12:01 pm

    Only partially true. If people who were previously eligible for Medicaid sign up becaus eof the ACA, and there were pretty high estimates of those people in Illinois, they aren’t part of the 100% federal funding.

  30. - RNUG - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 1:12 pm:

    DuPage @ 12:02 pm:

    SERS employees taking a lump sum when leaving the State get ZERO interest:

    I’d have to research the other systems …

  31. - DuPage - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 1:15 pm:

    As long time teachers (top of pay scale) leave, they are replaced by new, (bottom of pay scale) teachers. I don’t think this is fully taken into account when projecting future pensions. At tier 2 pensions, they pay in more then they will collect. If you figure in the reduction of any social security they have from other jobs, these new teachers end up with a NEGATIVE pension. When I meet mid-career people thinking of going into teaching, I caution them to look into it. Several did look into it, and decided to not go into teaching because of it.

  32. - archimedes - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 1:18 pm:

    RNUG@ 1:12PM.

    Same with TRS - the refund is the actual employee contributions collected (no interest).

    I would also note that the actuaries take all of this into account (they estimate the numbers that leave the system, etc.) when they compute the Normal Cost and the State contribution.

  33. - RNUG - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 1:25 pm:

    archimedes @ 1:18 pm:

    Thanks. I thought that was the case for TRS but I was going to go look it up before saying so …

  34. - RNUG - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 1:32 pm:

    RNUG - @ 1:02 pm:

    Didn’t proof it good enough FY13 should have been FY02 …

  35. - DuPage - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 1:41 pm:

    @RNUG, Thanks for that info. It’s even worse then I thought. The more I find out about this, the less I believe the politicians who want to cut pensions!

  36. - archimedes - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 1:44 pm:

    By the way - another “fun with numbers” deal.

    Back in 1995 (start of Pension Ramp law), the unfunded liability was about $19.5 billion. The annual interest on this would be about $1.6 billion (8% to the 5 systems). The income tax collected in 1995 was about $6.8 billion.

    So - had Illinois increased the income tax by 24% over what it was (3 cents) - or an increase of 0.7 cents (less than 1 cent) - Illinois could have paid the interest on the unfunded liability each and every year, no sweat. This would have kept the unfunded liability at $19.5 billion, provided the State paid the Normal Cost each year. We would be looking pretty good.

    Now, the interest on the $97 billion unfunded liability is about $7.7 billion a year (which we aren’t paying - so it increases every year). To fund just this interest of $7.7 billion a year requires an income tax rate of 2 cents.

    Had we just increased the income tax by 0.7 cents back in 1995, our annual pension payments (full ARC) would be about $3.3 billion right now. We are actually paying $6.8 billion in FY14 under the pension ramp and should be paying $10 billion to fully fund the ARC.

    Yes - it’s hindsight. Would have been better to bite the bullet back in 1995 and increased taxes rather than kick the can. But I am surprised how much it has cost us to kick the can.

    By the way - this has nothing to do with the pension structure. This is just the unfunded liability, or debt, from not paying the normal cost on a current basis.

  37. - Did The Math - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 2:07 pm:

    Archimedes @ 12:42 summed it up well with the most significant part being “we are not paying the interest on the unfunded liability”

    A very good source of publicly available information can be found on the CoGFA website in two reports regarding the Unfunded Liability and the Report on the Financial Condition of the State Retirement Systems.

  38. - PublicServant - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 2:13 pm:

    And, as had been said before, bonding out the unfunded pension liability at the current low interest rates, especially when compared to the current interest rate on the unfunded pension liabilities, would save the state billions over the next 3 decades. But that’s not being discussed because the state, IPI, and the Civies still think they can just reneg on what they currently owe. Two years down the line when interest rates are higher, the savings will be much less, but I guess stupid is as stupid does, and we’ll have to do this the hard way; By going through the ISC.

  39. - Federalist - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 2:27 pm:

    Dupage Dave,

    Hope you are right about the lack of need to worry over Medicaid. However, it is already costing the taxpayers $15.2 billion (roughly 50% federal/state) and if any one really believes that the state costs under ACA will not rise significantly- well, again, I hope they are right. But a little common sense would question that based upon past experience. First there is the effect that may more might be likely to come forward than originally expected and second it assumes that the FEDS will honor their promises.

    And even if the FEDS honor their promises, the % paid by the states will put increased pressure on

  40. - Federalist - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 2:30 pm:

    Dupage Dave,

    Hope you are right about the lack of need to worry over Medicaid. However, it is already costing the taxpayers $15.2 billion (roughly 50% federal/state) and if any one really believes that the state costs under ACA will not rise significantly- well, again, I hope they are right. But a little common sense would question that based upon past experience. First there is the effect that may more might be likely to come forward than originally expected and second it assumes that the FEDS will honor their promises.

    And even if the FEDS honor their promises, the % paid by the states will put increased pressure on already strained budgets is of grave concern.

    The dismissal of all of this as important is, in my opinion, is like burying one’s head in the sand.

  41. - Norseman - Thursday, Oct 31, 13 @ 4:26 pm:

    As the bewitching hour approaches and all the little and not-so-little ones come out, HAPPY HALLOWEEN TO ALL, especially to the public workers of the state who are waiting to see if they will be TRICKED by the politicians out of constitutionally protected benefits.


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