Unfunded pension liabilities are the dark cloud on the horizon of state budgets; a cloud totaling $4.1 trillion dollars for state-administered public pension plans, as SBS reported this year. Though they represent unavoidable fiscal debt, pension liabilities often slip under the radar when states tally up their spending, thanks to their status as "future payments" and accounting games. Aggressive pension reform is urgently needed in almost every state.

A recent group of studies by the GAO and Fed show how dire the situation really is.  Read about them here.

Courts are weighing in on what pension reform is feasible. Check out our monthly pension litigation update here.

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      Now Is the Time for Pension Reform

      State Budget Solutions | by Sarah Curry | August 27, 2015

      The future of public pension plans in America may seem bleak, but all hope is not lost.


      Look Out For These Pension Gimmicks

      State Budget Solutions | by Joe Luppino-Esposito, Bob Williams | April 15, 2015

      States have a few tricks up their sleeves to hide true pension liabilities.


      Promises Made, Promises Broken 2014: Unfunded Liabilities Hit $4.7 Trillion

      State Budget Solutions | by Joe Luppino-Esposito | November 12, 2014

      State Budget Solutions' latest research reveals that state public pension plans are underfunded by $4.7 trillion, up from $4.1 trillion in 2013. Overall, the combined plans' funded status has dipped three percentage points to 36%. Split among all Americans, the unfunded liability is over $15,000 per person. 


    • POLICY BRIEF: Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New York

      Constitutional Public Pension Guarantees: Unfair, Unaffordable, and Bad Policy

      The Manhattan Institute | by Stephen D. Eide | August 22, 2013


      Seven states have specific clauses in their constitutions that protect public employee pensions: Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, and New York. These seven states hold 20 percent of state governments' total pension debt, and many billions more in local pension debt. These states should amend their constitutions to remove language guaranteeing pension benefits for public workers.


      The Funding of State and Local Pensions: 2012–2016

      The Center for State and Local Government Excellence | by Alicia H. Munnell, Jean-Pierre Aubry, Josh Hurwitz, and Madeline Medenica | June 27, 2013

      Despite a rising stock market, the rebound in tax revenues, and increased employee contributions, the funded status of state and local pensions in 2012 declined slightly.


      Public Sector Pension Reform: Addressing Pressing Fiscal Realities from a Long-Term Perspective

      TIAA-CREF Institute | by Thomas L. Gais and Paul J. Yakoboski | June 17, 2013

      There are persistent fiscal and demographic challenges in most states. The public sector workforce is aging as the baby boom cohort moves towards and into traditional retirement ages. Budgetary pressures at the state and local level make it difficult to increase plan funding and maintain the size of the public sector workforce.

    • RESEARCH: Delaware

      Delaware’s Public Employees’ Retirement System: A Complete and Transparent Accounting

      The Mercatus Center | by Eileen Norcross | March 21, 2013

      To be fully funded, Delaware must increase its annual contribution to the pension system based on a market valuation of plan liabilities. This paper analyzes Delaware’s pension system on a fair-market or government- guaranteed basis, with reference to the average US Treasury rate on 10- and 20-year bonds in June 2012. A discussion of the discrepancy between current government accounting conventions and the fair-market value approach and the implications for plan management follows.


      2013 Report on State Retirement Systems: Funding Levels and Asset Allocation

      Wilshire Consulting | by Julia Bonafede | February 27, 2013

      Wilshire Consulting estimates that the ratio of pension assets-to-liabilities, or funding ratio, for all 134 state pension plans was 73% in 2012, down from an estimated 77% in 2011. This deterioration in funding ratio was fueled by global stock market volatility in the twelve months ending June 30, 2012. Growth in fund assets could not keep up with growth in plan liabilities over fiscal 2012.


      Forecasting the Recovery from the Great Recession: Is This Time Different?

      The National Bureau of Economic Research | by Kathryn Dominguez & Matthew Shapiro | February 4, 2013

      Was the slow recovery of the U.S. economy from the trough of the Great Recession anticipated? 


      On Financing Retirement with an Aging Population

      The National Bureau of Economic Research | by Ellen McGrattan & Edward Prescott | February 4, 2013

      Alternative views on the problem the United States is facing: financing retirement consumption as its population ages.

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    • SOLUTIONS: Kentucky

      Future Shock Solutions

      The Bluegrass Institute | by Lowell Reese | April 8, 2013

      The goal is to enact systemic change and create a climate for long-term solvency for Kentucky's public pensions. This requires changing the very structure of the system while providing the minimum amount of one-time immediate funding to stave off bankruptcy in the state employees’ fund. Steps also must be taken to set in place policies that will enable the commonwealth to avoid such pension crises in the future.


      Why government employee collective bargaining laws must be reformed now

      State Budget Solutions | by Bob Williams | December 5, 2012

      There are three important lessons from the Wisconsin collective bargaining battles over the past eighteen months:

      1. The power of the government-sector unions and their impact on elections is greatly overestimated. With the November 2012 victory for  Senate Republicans to regain control of the Wisconsin Senate,  government employee union  suffered their sixth  major defeat since March 2011.

      2. When given a choice, government employees will quit their union in large numbers.

      3. Government employees' salaries and benefits, particularly pensions, are financially unsustainable in most states and collective bargaining reform is needed.


      How to Prevent Future Pension Crises

      by Cory Eucalitto | November 1, 2012

      The time for state and local governments to offer defined contribution retirement plans that protect both taxpayer dollars and public employee retirement security is now.

    • SOLUTIONS: California

      Reform Before Revenue: How to Fix California's Retiree Health-Care Problem

      The Manhattan Institute | by Stephen D. Eide | October 31, 2012

      This paper examines the ongoing fiscal crisis caused by health-care plans for retirees (known as "other post-employment benefits," or OPEB) in one of the hardest-hit states, California, and outlines necessary reforms that should come before tax increases or cuts to government services.

    • SOLUTIONS: California

      Rising Pension Costs Threaten Cities’ Ability to Provide Services

      Hoover Institution of Stanford University | by Chuck Reed | October 16, 2012

      In June 2012, nearly 70% of San Jose voters approved "Measure B" - a set of pension reforms that the City Council placed on the ballot after more than 8 months of negotiations with our employee unions.

    • SOLUTIONS: North Carolina

      Reforms Needed for North Carolina's Ailing Pension System

      Civitas Institute | by Brian Balfour | September 12, 2012

      In numerous measurable ways, North Carolina's pension benefits are more generous than those offered in the private sector and most other states. Financial and demographic trends point toward rapidly increasing obligations in the near- and long-term future. Sensible reforms that bring North Carolina's pension benefits more on par with those of other states and the private sector are needed to avoid a massive taxpayer bailout of the pension fund.


      Solutions to the public pension crisis

      State Budget Solutions | by Bob Williams | August 1, 2012

      Public pensions at the state and municipal levels are unsustainable in their current form.  State Budget Solutions' recent study by Andrew Biggs found that public pensions are underfunded by $4.6 trilion. Here we offer solutions to the pension crisis

    • SOLUTIONS: Maine

      Unfunded Government Employee Pension Liabilities Reform

      The State of Maine | December 7, 2011

      Proposal for reforming Maine's pension plans, including freezing pensions for three years (2011 - 2013), identical to the state employee salary freeze, and ensuring reasonable increases in pensions after that, close to the historical norm of 2.8% annually, based on CPI (inflation), but capped at 2% (currently capped at 4%).


      Creating a New Public Pension System

      The Laura and John Arnold Foundation | by Josh B. McGee, Ph.D. | December 5, 2011

      Sound pension reform meets four general criteria: (1) establish transparency with respect to the true cost of the benefits promised to public employees; (2) mandate that the pension plan sponsor pay the full cost of accrued benefits each year; (3) mandate that the pension plan sponsor pay down the unfunded accrued liability over a reasonable time horizon and (4) improve the generational equity, portability and security of benefits for public employees.

    • SOLUTIONS: Virginia

      Pension Plan Reform in Virginia

      The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy | by Robert C. Carlson | December 2, 2011

      Paper suggesting Virginia move toward a combined retirement program that includes partially a defined benefits program and added to this should be a defined contributions program. Such a balanced system would make the Commonwealth’s costs lower and more predictable while providing attractive benefits to employees.

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