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This is why we can’t have nice things

Friday, Jan 30, 2015

* From commenter Arthur Andersen, who is an old hand on the pension front

(T)he argument about members’ contributions being “a small percentage” of the total pension payments over a lifetime is a red herring that provides no justification for the hugely expensive swap to the inferior [defined contribution] plan.

In one sample case I’ve examined, a 31-year State worker with time in SERS and TRS recovered his contributions in about 3.5 years. If one assumes a State match of contributions, the recovery time goes to 7 years.

Now here’s where it gets interesting; if those contributions were accounted for separately and earned what the pension funds over the working career of the employee-the contributions are now worth over 13 years of the pension.

In turn, taking that hypothetical amount and annuitizing it for 28 years (average life expectancy) at 8% with monthly withdrawals equal to the pension payment, there was actually some money (but not much) left over.

In other words, if the state had made its payments all along there would be no problem today.

Yes, you could argue that an 8 percent return over time is too high of an expectation. But if so, why is the IMRF fund in such good shape? They didn’t necessarily invest spectacularly better than the TRS or SERS. The key difference is municipalities had to make those payments or the state could snatch their revenue sharing money.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

64 Comments
  1. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 11:28 am:

    With the likes of - AA - commenting so thoughtfully and extensively about how the pensions work, inside and out, I just read and learn.

    Great insight - AA -.

    ===The key difference is municipalities had to make those payments or the state could snatch their revenue sharing money.===

    And… ===In other words, if the state had made its payments all along there would be no problem today.===

    What is lost on those thinking everything is so broken, to understand where the fixes can exist by understanding where failure started and continued up to the point full payments were being made.

    It’s not that payments don’t work now, it’s the missed payments that are being chased.

    Love the insigh we get here from the stable of those who know.


  2. - VanillaMan - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 11:32 am:

    I’m concerned over how quickly we are seeing citizens willing to find reasons beyond facts to attack their neighbors. I know history tells us that this is a sadly common occurrence, that politicians seek political power by tapping into unfounded resentments towards this or that group, it’s just that I so wished we didn’t see that today.

    Attacking this or that group of citizens because they seem to have more than most, isn’t what we normally see in America. Germany or Italy, Egypt or Russia, yes - but not America.


  3. - JeffingingChicago - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 11:33 am:

    I remember the good old days when my retirement (401k)looked guaranteed and wonderful with a 7% return year after year. Now not so much. I am now even with where I was in 2008. Explain to me how the State can guarantee an 8% return to its workers when that doesn’t exist in the real world. And yes the difference of 7 to 8% compounding over 30 years is huge.

    I agree the amount paid in is a red herring. But look at what a $25,000 annuity that increases 3% each year would cost for 20+ years. That is a truer measuring stick.


  4. - pundent - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 11:38 am:

    Good commentary and analysis. This is why I think its a tough road for the state to think that the ILSC is going to bail them out. The legislature created this crisis by ignoring the rules. It was not due to a series of unforeseen or unexplained events. They simply did not meet their fiduciary obligations. There is a simple fix and it’s raising taxes. Just because the solution is unpopular doesn’t mean that the state should be able to skirt their responsibilities. In fact there’s an obligation that this should have been done all along if the state was incapable of living within its means. In that sense think of this as nothing more than a tax which has been deferred but is now owed.


  5. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 11:38 am:

    Again highlighting that this is largely a self-created problem by the state and our leaders.


  6. - Shark Sandwich - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 11:40 am:

    Jeffing, check the retirement systems’ annual reports for past returns. In short, they are helped by having a bigger pool and lower fees/overheads ( provided they are funded).


  7. - One of the 35 - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 11:42 am:

    Is it possible to bring a civil action against the GA for breach of fiduciary duty for failing to make the necessary pension contributions? Might get thrown out, but is it worth a try?


  8. - Jocko - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 11:45 am:

    VM nails it! Sadly, it sometimes goes beyond neighbors to extended family.

    I don’t recall this level of rancor when the private sector employee was pulling down 1.5 to 2 times what the public sector was making.


  9. - Ginhouse Tommy - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 11:47 am:

    This proves what some people have been saying for some time. This whole mess is from bad management from a lot of different executives and legislators. To get around the mess and not take any responsibility they blame the state employees because they can’t fix the mess and make it go away. Ain’t happening. The powers that be are going to man up and provide real leadership not just another shell game. We’ve seen that before.


  10. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 11:56 am:

    Wow, are you saying this is the same as my house payments? That is to say that if I skip a house payment the bank does not just reduce what I owe. Maybe I just have a bad bank.


  11. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 11:57 am:

    ==This whole mess is from bad management from a lot of different executives and legislators.==

    Those executives include a number of union leaders who were complicit in the pension payment ==holidays==.

    Some of the politicians and union execs who engineered this mess remain in power, unscathed, to this day. Those same politicians are now attempting to blame the victims and steal from them based on those prior failures to properly fund the pension system. The whole thing is not just underhanded, but offensive, to many.


  12. - anon - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 11:58 am:

    When complaining about your 401(k) returns, please understand that you most likely have Social Security which does increase in payments and that you have the potential to receive returns well in excess of 8% if the economy continues to rebound. Once a pension is stolen, it is lost forever.


  13. - Wordslinger - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 12:03 pm:

    Fortunately, on the pension front, all indications from the Supremes are that the screaming and crying is almost over.


  14. - Joe Blow - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 12:04 pm:

    All great comments now let’s hear from subscribers solutions to the debt problem including raising taxes. One of my solutions would be to extend the pension payment schedule I believe the payment schedule was passed in 1994. Why not retrigger out to 2065? Also find a funding source to bond out part of the debt. Just asking.


  15. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 12:05 pm:

    ===One of my solutions would be to extend the pension payment schedule==

    You end up paying a whole lot more that way.


  16. - Norseman - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 12:07 pm:

    The AA’s in state government are the reason I get so angry at the blanket vilification of state employees and their salaries and benefits. Great analysis AA.


  17. - Joe Blow - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 12:18 pm:

    Rich
    Yes it does cost more but at the same time it takes pressure off of the over all budget doesn’t it.


  18. - Norseman - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 12:22 pm:

    *** ===One of my solutions would be to extend the pension payment schedule==

    You end up paying a whole lot more that way. ***

    Because of the fiscal irresponsiblity of our policy makers, there will be an additional cost. The best we can hope for the least costly fix.


  19. - PublicServant - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 12:29 pm:

    The average stock market ROI is just north of 8%/year over the period since its inception till now, and that includes the great depression and our current “great recession”. The numbers used for the pensions, I believe, are 7.75%, which are quite reasonable. As AA says, if the state had made its required payments instead of using the money to fund programs and keep our taxes low for decades, we wouldn’t have the debt problem we do today.


  20. - Kurt in Springfield - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 12:36 pm:

    @JeffingingChicago “Explain to me how the State can guarantee an 8% return to its workers when that doesn’t exist in the real world.”

    The Dow since its inception has averaged close to 12% a year. My Roth IRA averages between 12% and 13% a year. Earning an 8% average annual return is not unrealistic at all in the real world. There are of course down years with negative rates of return. It is the long term investment average however that makes the difference.


  21. - Pamela - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 12:40 pm:

    I think most people understand the impact of
    compound interest & what was lost but where
    was the union & employees in the past? They
    continued to sign contracts with & elect the
    same politicians who did this.


  22. - RNUG - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 12:47 pm:

    == AA ===

    Very good article


  23. - A guy - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 12:48 pm:

    Well done Artie. It doesn’t need to “assume” much or anything outrageous to make a very strong argument.


  24. - RNUG - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 12:51 pm:

    === Is it possible to bring a civil action against the GA for breach of fiduciary duty for failing to make the necessary pension contributions? ===

    As much I would like to see that, I believe they have immunity from their legislative actions.


  25. - Qui Tam - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:00 pm:

    === Is it possible to bring a civil action against the GA for breach of fiduciary duty for failing to make the necessary pension contributions? ===

    A while back I believe the SEC did bring legal action against the IL GA (the People of Illinois) for fraud related to pension underfunding. The Il Atty General ’successfully’ settled this charge and got them off the hook.

    Also I believe Il voters re-elected many of the founded pension fraudsters.


  26. - Precinct Captain - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:06 pm:

    You follow the rules, make the payment schedule, and thinks turn out good, who could have guessed?


  27. - CapnCrunch - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:23 pm:

    “…taking that hypothetical amount and annuitizing it for 28 years (average life expectancy) at 8% with monthly withdrawals equal to the pension payment, there was actually some money (but not much) left over.”

    Arthur, I assume your withdrawal calculation included an annual 3% increase. Am I correct?


  28. - liandro - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:27 pm:

    I honestly get sick of the “this program would work if the government had wisely spent the funds” argument. I’ve heard the same about Social Security (which isn’t really on schedule to be terribly healthy by the time I retire), pensions, etc.

    Because here’s the thing: government’s have proven they don’t manage other’s money well over the long term. You offer a cigarette to someone trying to stop smoking, and sometimes they take it. You offer cash to a government, sometimes they spend it.

    So my issue is that people who strongly defend having a pension system somehow think that complaining the government didn’t properly save their money is an argument IN DEFENSE


  29. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:29 pm:

    ===I honestly get sick of the “this program would work if the government had wisely spent the funds” argument===

    Except there are plenty of governments - state and local - who did wisely spend their funds.


  30. - liandro - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:30 pm:

    Bah, sorry, tab button. Anyway, if the pension system can be “fixed”, factoring in the tendency of government to spend “invested” money has to be factored into the system.

    I can complain all I want that Social Security has been used improperly (and do), but if I want it when I retire my guess is things will have to change: retirement age, contributions, etc.


  31. - liandro - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:31 pm:

    Agreed Rich, because a bigger government points a gun at them (figuratively). Are we going to get the feds to do that to the state? Because that would be an intriguing solution.

    One of the functions of government is oversight, and local funds being in such better shape do to state oversight is an example of that working. But who is watching the watchmen?


  32. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:33 pm:

    Cap’n, yes it did include the AAI.


  33. - pundent - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:36 pm:

    liandro - Google the letters IMRF and then circle back with us.


  34. - liandro - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:37 pm:

    Pundent,

    I assume my response to Rich hadn’t posted yet when you wrote that?


  35. - CapnCrunch - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:39 pm:

    Thanks. I didn’t think you overlooked it but I thought I should ask.


  36. - Mama - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:40 pm:

    Now is the time to come up with sound solutions to the pension problem. Crying about what happened in the past and who is at fault changes nothing.


  37. - PublicServant - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:44 pm:

    Mama, it’s a debt problem. The solution is to pay it back according to the current pension ramp and raise taxes enough to both repay what was borrowed and fund existing programs.


  38. - Wordslinger - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:49 pm:

    Qui Tam, the SEC alleged fraud in bond disclosures regarding health of pension funds. The disclosures were prepared by the executive branch.

    It was picking pepper out of fly stuff because the numbers were there for all to see. the SEC was objecting to language describing the funding plan, and there was a slap on the wrist.

    The SEC was just showing the world how tough they are now after snoozing for years in the run up to 2008.


  39. - Mama - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:49 pm:

    Public Servant - that is what I would do, but Rauner keeps saying he will not raise taxes. That means another solution is needed.


  40. - Mama - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 1:52 pm:

    Good point Word.


  41. - RNUG - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 2:00 pm:

    === Now is the time to come up with sound solutions to the pension problem. ===

    Agreed. But part of the problem is the already existing debt still has to be paid regardless of any reforms. That won’t get solved as long as the politians keep trying to wish away the debt.


  42. - ZC - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 2:07 pm:

    Gratuitous academic plug but relevant I think: I’ve been trying for a while to figure out, “How did we get here?” I think a future academic “name” in this field might be a current grad student out at UC-Berkeley I just saw present, John Brooks, who has put together the most impressive statistical analysis I’ve found so far of what variable correlate to why some states have done a more responsible job than others. The link to his research-in-progress (it’s not peer reviewed yet) is below.

    What Brooks has found in part isn’t earth-shattering, but it fits IL. We’re not the only state that has mismanaged its pensions (we’re just in the worst fix because, unlike most other stages, it seems we can’t reneg on anything). The strongest correlation Brooks finds, nationwide, is how insulated the state pension boards are from political appointments. In other words, the more the pension boards are insulated from political pressures / staffed with bureaucrats / “professionals,” in general, the better the states have done protecting their retirees’ investments. In IL we always talk about the irresponsible legislature, but the culture of appointments to pension boards in this state is arguably insane, if you step back from it.

    Brooks also finds that when you control for things like politicized pension boards, whether or not the state has a strong unionized workforce seems to have a null impact on the state’s current pension health.

    Like I said it’s not peer-reviewed yet and I can’t imagine it tells the full story, but it might point to part of the way forward.

    http://www.johnebrooks.com/uploads/3/1/3/2/31329631/funding_v4.pdf


  43. - JohnTwig - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 2:13 pm:

    A well designed, properly funded state defined benefit pension plan can be a good bargain for both employees and taxpayers. The Illinois problem is the DEBT owed the pension plans and not the actual cost to the State of operating the plan.

    To see an example of how another state’s plan saved a lot of taxpayer dollars, take a look at:

    http://illinoispublicpensions.com/

    The above site also has an interactive model that looks like the SURS Tier I plan (of which I am a member) that will let your try out your own assumptions and see how the math works out.


  44. - Jocko - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 2:15 pm:

    ==Crying about what happened in the past and who is at fault changes nothing.==

    It helps you understand why your taxes were kept artificially low for the past twenty years and why Rauner (regardless of what he says) will have to raise them…or you can just buy into Rauner’s “public employees are greedy!” argument and cheer when he skips the required pension payment.


  45. - shaken - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 2:16 pm:

    If you look at the rate of return for TRS, you can see how 8% is not unreasonable. TRS rate was 18% for 2014. You can track the last 10 years here. http://trs.illinois.gov/press/financial/return.htm


  46. - jeffinginChicago - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 2:29 pm:

    Ok Calpers over the last 10 years has an average rate of return of 6.8%. http://www.calpers.ca.gov/eip-docs/about/facts/facts-at-a-glance.pdf. They are or were considered to be biggest and best of State pension funds. How underfunded are we with that rate of return assuming contributions had been made? If you have to guarantee the rate what is the right rate? Do you base it on the last 10 years 20 years 30 years? There is a lot at stake for all of us.

    At anon regarding Social Security. My retirement age was pushed back to almost 67 and every year they send me a love letter of how much I will receive. It includes a statement that Congress can and has changed my benefits that there is no guarantee of what I may actually receive.


  47. - anon - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 2:29 pm:

    === Now is the time to come up with sound solutions to the pension problem. ===

    If you take tax hikes off the table, and insist that the steep income tax cut remain in effect, it is pretty hard to find any legal solution. Unless Gov. Rauner changes his tune about taxes, there will be no solution during his administration.


  48. - Joe M - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 2:29 pm:

    === Is it possible to bring a civil action against the GA for breach of fiduciary duty for failing to make the necessary pension contributions? ==

    That has been tried:

    Constitutional provision that membership in state pension or retirement system shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the enefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired, did not create contractual right in teachers to enforce specific level of funding for teachers’ pension plans and did not preclude governor from reducing appropriations made to the pension funds. People ex rel. Illinois Federation of Teachers, AFT, AFL-CIO v. Lindberg, 1975, 60 Ill.2d 266, 326 N.E.2d 749


  49. - Joe M - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 2:32 pm:

    and tried again:

    Pension Code does not establish vested contractual rights to statutory funding levels. People ex el., Sklodowski v. State, 1998, 230 Ill.Dec. 884, 182 Ill.2d 220, 695 N.E.2d 374


  50. - JohnTwig - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 2:41 pm:

    About a lawsuit to force the Legislature to fund pension systems –it has been tried before. See:

    http://cgfa.ilga.gov/Upload/2008%20JANUARY%20Handbook%20of%20Illinois%20Pension%20Case%20Law.pdf

    Scroll down to page 10.


  51. - ZC - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 2:56 pm:

    >> did not create contractual right in teachers to enforce specific level of funding for teachers’ pension plans and did not preclude governor from reducing appropriations made to the pension funds.

    Which seems like a big part of the mess. At the same time, it’s unclear exactly what binding constitutional language would have looked like here. Constitutional language to the effect of, “The state is obligated to make its yearly pension set-aside” could easily be end-run by a legislative statute redefining what the state’s obligation -is-, for any given year.

    I’m not sure if there was any constitutional language in any words they could have come up with, that would actually have compelled legislators to make the “required” contribution” year-by-year. Unless you wanted to get like hyper-specific, i.e. “the state’s pension system must be at least 80% funded” in the Constitution itself. Which doesn’t make much sense to me either (what if a Great Depression strikes?)


  52. - chi - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 3:45 pm:

    Jeffing-

    You are picking a pretty bad ten-year window. Calpers is in business for decades, plural, and so losses one decade are compensated by gains in another decade. This is one beneficial aspect of “risk pooling”. When someone has a 401k, if the market tanks right before their retirement, they’re screwed. When someone is in a pension fund, their risk is pooled with others who retired fifty years prior and who will retire fifty years in the future. So where the market is when a single individual retires doesn’t matter. Assuming, of course, the state pays its share.


  53. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 3:58 pm:

    TRS’ 30-year return on investments is around 9.5 percent. SURS and ISBI are in that ballpark.

    I can’t get Prof. Brooks’ article to open, ZC, but I’ll keep trying. In the meantime, can you elaborate on your assertion that “the culture of appointments in IL is….insane?”

    PS: Thanks, folks, for the kind words above.


  54. - Cook County Commoner - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 3:59 pm:

    @ John Twig, 2:41 pm
    Thanks for the reference.

    Everyone should read the material. The state may or may not have the police power to modify pensions but there appears to be little the courts can do to enforce the state (or local governments ?) to tax and pay up.

    I think its fair to say there will be no judicial solution to the problem.


  55. - ZC - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 4:30 pm:

    Arthur,

    I just don’t know how to post links clearly, apologies. But if you go to www.johnebrooks.com (try copying / pasting) and look for his research you can download the pdf.


  56. - Shemp - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 4:42 pm:

    IMRF runs like a champ and yet woefully underfunded police and fire pension boards and advocates protest every time someone so much as breathes a though about creating a fire and police pension system similar to IMRF. Go figure. (wouldn’t be because all the actuaries, consultants, fund managers, etc would stand to lose money, would it?)


  57. - Harry - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 4:42 pm:

    Any honest actuary will tell you that the problem is mostly because the State didn’t pay what an actuarial formula required. Benefit sweeteners like unfunded ERIs were a small part of it, and market returns falling short of expectations were significant but not as big as just the State not acting responsibly.


  58. - PublicServant - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 4:46 pm:

    ===I think its fair to say there will be no judicial solution to the problem.===

    While that is likely true CCC, they are about to eliminate welching as a solution that the state can utilize.


  59. - anon - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 5:03 pm:

    “but there appears to be little the courts can do to enforce the state (or local governments ?) to tax and pay up.” Maybe not the power to order a tax but the courts do have the power to order the State and local governments to pay up. In the recent treasurer’s stipend case (4th District Appellate Court, maybe), the Court stated that it did not violate separation of powers to order that payment be made out of the general funds where the stipend was required by the constitution.


  60. - Cook County Commoner - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 5:19 pm:

    @ anon 5:03pm

    Thanks.

    What I see happening is that we end up at some point with court orders declaring payments out of general funds to pensions in competition with other required payments, such as the child care issue at the top of the blog.

    What a mess.


  61. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 5:52 pm:

    Harry, do you go by “Captain Obvious” in real life?

    Just kidding. We can’t say that enough.


  62. - Former Merit Comp Slave - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 10:19 pm:

    Exactly what I’ve been saying for several years


  63. - lost in the weeds - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 10:47 pm:

    8 percent in the past is not an unreasonable rate of return. Going forword it might be lower.
    http://awealthofcommonsense.com/real-risk-6040-portfolio/


  64. - lost in the weeds - Friday, Jan 30, 15 @ 10:48 pm:

    Very good points Arthur.


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* IEA RA applauds Parkland student call for #NeverAgain. Votes down anti-NRA New Business Item.
* Just white.
* “You can’t arrest homelessness away.”
* Arizona.
* Final Permit Issued, 5050 N. Broadway Is Ready To Go
* Paris. 1968.
* Keeping retirement real. Steelworker dreams and nightmares.
* The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #197: On The Baseball Beat With The Cubs Conundrum And The White Sox Slog
* Weed Week: Get in the mood for 4/20 with these photos by Chicagoans dedicated to legal weed
* Dried scallops the key ingredient in chef C.J. Jacobson's 'Mediterranean XO sauce' [VIDEO]


* IEMA Highlights Role of Volunteers in Disasters
* Governor Rauner activates State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield
* February Flooding Information
* IEMA Urges People to Prepare for Severe Weather
* Governor issues state disaster proclamation for flooding in Iroquois, Kankakee, Vermilion Counties

  
* DOJ probing AT&T, Verizon for collusion to thwart eSIM and you switching
* Apple is replacing the batteries for some 13-inch MacBook Pros
* Amazon won’t let users review James Comey’s new book if they didn’t purchase it through the site
* Netflix’s Cargo has a few new ideas for the zombie genre
* The Wikileaks Shop says that Coinbase has suspended its account
* Ikea’s first Bluetooth speakers show it’s still figuring out tech
* Ox, the truck that can be packed flat like Ikea furniture, is headed to pre-production

* Astros romp, 10-0
* Farquhar stable after ruptured brain aneurysm
* Farquhar stable but critical after hemorrhage
* South Side Sox Prospect Vote: Round 16
* South Side Sox Roster Ranking: Round 16
* Astros romp in 10-0 laugher
* Shields, White Sox stumble vs. Astros in opener


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