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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 15, 2006 11:06 AM. The previous post in this blog was Guess who's coming to dinner. The next post in this blog is All 0's and 1's. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cautionary tale

Here's what happens when a city has a huge unfunded pension liability and it doesn't come clean with the financial markets about it. Cough!

Comments (35)

I forget... how long is it before P.E.R.S. blows up?

I don't know about PERS. I was thinking of a certain city's unfunded liability for the pensions of certain uniformed employees.

PERS isn't going to blow up anytime soon. After all the reforms of 2003 and the good markets from 2003 to the present, PERS is 104% funded with employer side accounts and 91% funded without (source: PERS). At the time of the reforms, PERS was only 75% funded including any side accounts. I'd say that with fully funded reserves as well as no unfunded liability, PERS has been righted. Employer rates are actually going down now that the PERS Board and the Actuary have worked out new actuarially sound principles for employer payments. The rates will continue to drop in 2007.

So it is time for people to stop repeating old and outdated information. While those of us affected by the reforms aren't happy, the reforms DID WORK and there are no data anywhere to contradict that. Yes, there are still lawsuits out there, but the reserves within PERS are adequate to cover any legal loss PERS might sustain as a result of the PERS "settlement" in 2004. Even with a loss, PERS will remain fully funded, although the reserves will be lower.

The "cautionary" part of this tale is that no one at the city of SD has been disciplined, let alone fired.

So what's there for anyone in Portland's city government to worry about.

Same old, same old.

Roll up your sleeve and bend over.

I agree with Ricky. Unless an individual in San Diego is prosecuted or at least investigated, there's no fine to be handed down, no jail time for anyone, and no real punishment for the malfeasance. So the real story is, run as fast and loose as you can until the SEC catches up with you, at which time you'll be asked to do what you should have been doing in the first place.

Hopefully, the taxpayers won't be too badly impacted, but who cares, right?

While those of us affected by the reforms aren't happy

'Reforms' is double-speak for... what? You get to retire 5 years later than you were promised?

Jack - just how bad is the unfunding for a certain city's certain uniformed employees?

Will they ALL have to get jobs on the City Council to make ends meet?

While those of us affected by the reforms aren't happy

'Reforms' is double-speak for... what? You get to retire 5 years later than you were promised?

Nope. I retired in 2002, BEFORE any of this came down. I can't reverse that decision, so I'm stuck with a $16,000 bill I have to repay to PERS and a benefit reduced by $400 per month less than what I was receiving when I retired. I *wish* I could have reversed my decision, but even though PERS gets to do a "do over", I don't get one.

Mrfearless47, so you are going to look at the stockmarket only when it has gone up from 2003 and analyse whether a retirement fund is sound? And even in that period the market has not been on as high a curve as compared to the 50 year total curve. I hope you are not the advisor to PERS or Portland's Police/Fireman Retirement Programs.

Andy seems to be particularly miffed by the PERS retirement system and the fact that those of us who labored hard for 30+ years are getting a decent retirement benefit. It smells like envy to me. I'm sorry that I worked for sub-standard wages for 30+ years to save you taxpayer dollars during my working career, only to reclaim some of those dollars in my retirement. I did my job and, in fact, more than paid my own salary in grants I brought in while working. Moreover, I worked for an agency that actually charged the public for its services and the revenue brought in from my courses was always greater than needed to pay my salary, benefits, and the amortization of all building costs. So, I actually cost Andy nothing and costs the state and the taxpayers nothing - I literally EARNED my PERS benefits with my own labors. So, I don't feel a whit of guilt about my PERS benefits and I'm definitely unhappy about the rule changes made to PERS AFTER I RETIRED. I didn't retire to game the system; I retired because I was ready to retire. No one warned me that my benefits were in jeopardy (I believe the legal term for this is promissory estoppel). Only 5 years after I retired do I know exactly how much my benefit will really be after all the "do overs" and "take backs" are figured in. My goal in life now is to piss everyone off about PERS and to point out how misinformed almost everyone is about this subject. Andy, you don't know squat about PERS as your ignorant remarks have demonstrated. For that matter, neither does the Oregonian or much of the rest of Oregon's media. I know nothing about the PPF Retirement System except that it is as UNDIFFERENT from PERS as it can be.

"Mrfearless47, so you are going to look at the stockmarket only when it has gone up from 2003 and analyse whether a retirement fund is sound? And even in that period the market has not been on as high a curve as compared to the 50 year total curve"

Cmon, I'm not the one reporting the status; it is the NEW actuarial firm. The point is that 2000-2002 were aberrations by all accounts. Many argued that the problems were mostly created by the bad markets in those years and that the abnormally high UAL was largely the result of market forces. My point is that the combination of the reforms enacted by the legislature AND the improved market have turned the PERS fund 180 degrees around. It is fully funded now, AND it has 30 months' worth of reserves banked so that a situation like 2000 - 2002 won't hit the system so hard. The fact is that NO analyst expects the equities market to earn less than 8% over the long haul, while the Oregon Investment Council's long term average is 11.1%. So, combine the reforms which limit the growth of Tier 1 accounts, the revisions that also affected Tier 2 accounts, and the creation of a new Tier 3 affecting individuals hired on or after 8/29/03, and the system is now on sound actuarial footing and is targeted to be that way for a very long time. Remember that Tier 1 members stopped entering the system in 1996 and more than 60% of them are already retired. The majority of the system is now Tier 2 and Tier 3, neither of which have any guaranteed return of any kind. Again, I'm not trying to argue that the returns for the past few years undid the damage, but these returns (which were predicted to occur) coupled with the reforms adopted by the 2003 Legislature, and few adverse court rulings against the PERS Coalition, have done precisely what they were supposed to do: stabilize the system, eliminate the UAL, and replenish ALL the reserves.

"After all the reforms of 2003 and the good markets from 2003 to the present, PERS is 104% funded with employer side accounts and 91% funded without (source: PERS)."

Sure as long as we don't need to release $1.6B from reserves in the near future which is most of the "reform" mentioned. So this reform covers us for a year or two until the un-funded liabilities start piling up again.

"Sure as long as we don't need to release $1.6B from reserves in the near future which is most of the "reform" mentioned. So this reform covers us for a year or two until the un-funded liabilities start piling up again."

Again, the reserves are expected to cover for 30 months, which would have covered the 2000 - 2002 run. The reserves right now are only from the recent impact of the legislation. The full implementation over the actuarial lifetime of Tier 1 members still working is expected to be over $6 billion as more and more Tier 1 members retire and take pressure off the system. You also don't understand how the Benefits in Force" reserve works. It is the fund that pays out benefits after members retire. All benefits are figured on the basis of a flat 8% earnings rate, whereas the lifetime rate on the BIF exceeds 12%. The surplus in the BIF is used directly to reduce employer rates. There has NEVER been a shortfall in the BIF; it has been fully funded for the duration of the PERS fund and has provided billions in taxpayer relief over the years. So, the retirees have been subsidizing the actives and the employers for years.

If you want to write legislation that requires PERS to increase the size of the reserves, feel free to do that. PERS is completely compliant with all statutes and all elements of contract and IRS laws. If you want to write a law that reduces the Tier 1 guarantee, please feel free to do so. Just remember that the Tier 1 rate guarantee is intimately and statutorily intertwined with the actuarially assumed interest rate, which determines what employers contribute. Reduce the assumed rate and members earn less, but employers pay more. Your call.

The law makes it very clear that you can't change the system retroactively - period. So, it is easy to be glib and suggest more PERS reform, but the 2003 reforms went about as far as the law allows in changing the system. (And junking it would cost infinitely more than it would save because of the "accrued benefits" piece of the IRS regulations).

So, please. Admit you hate PERS and public employees and move on. It isn't hard. I won't dislike you any more than I already do.

Andy seems to be particularly miffed...

Not miffed, just waiting to look at the Oregon financial crisis.

The last time I checked before I left Oregon, PERS/gov't-employee folks were guaranteed an 8% annual increase (aka "cost of living") on their retirement benefits.

And this while folks in the non-gov't sector were stuck with... reality. Don't ge me wrong - if I had put in my time at a gov't gig I'd be all over the PERS gravy train.

My only morbid interest at this point is when/how/how-soon the PERS promises of ever-rising payouts is going to be met by the tax-payers who still live in PDX/Oregon... after they pay for the aerial tram [rim-shot]

"The last time I checked before I left Oregon, PERS/gov't-employee folks were guaranteed an 8% annual increase (aka "cost of living") on their retirement benefits."

Sorry, but this just shows how totally out of touch you are. Retirees receive at MOST a 2% cost of living increase as set out in ORS 238.360. Members who retired between 2000 and 2004 have had their COLA increases suspended since 2003 as part of the reform legislation. This part was overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court, but PERS hasn't repaid any of those frozen COLA increases. I retired in 2002 and haven't had ANY increase since.

You have the 2% COLA confused with the Tier 1 earnings guarantee of 8% (currently). The OPSOA case of 1996 ruled that the rate guarantee (not the specific rate) was contractual and could not arbitrary be removed). Tier 2 and Tier 3 members (60% of the current PERS workforce have NO rate guarantee).

Again, please check your facts and try to get them straight. This is the kind of confusion that the public has and which I've been working for years to try and straighten out. Be mad at me for what I'm getting, but don't get mad at me for something I never have and never will get.

Sigh.

"whereas the lifetime rate on the BIF exceeds 12%."

You have a link for what the BIF is/does? The 12% return sounds interesting.

As far as reforming PERS, you're right, it's a fait accompli. I guess the most galling thing is that these get set up by people with no comprehension or understanding of what it will take to pay these benefits. I think that is where the disconnect comes in.

Then 20 years down the road when it comes time to pay these, then most of the people that set it up are gone or hope we have short memories (like Mr Leonard and the PFDR.)

Of course, you can same all the above about Social Security, I just hope the 2.1 workers who support me when I retire don't mind paying 45% FICA on their income.

The basic link for all things PERS is the PERS website itself. Financial reports and all details for all funds and reserves is contained in the annual "CAFR" (Comprehensive Annual Fund Review), which is done by PERS' auditors at the close of every calendar year and is released in May or June of the following year. You can find out anything you ever wanted to know, and more, about PERS> Another worthwhile document is called "PERS By The Numbers", also available from a link on the front page of the PERS website. The last version came out in October 2005; I understand that a new, updated version will be out in early December.

The similarities between PERS, PFDR, and Social Security are slim. PERS aims to be fully or mostly funded at all times. It is fully funded and has reserves to cover all statutory contingencies. I can't say the same about PFDR and Social Security. Social Security's problems are structural and relate to the way it was set up from the beginning. The pay as you go plan isn't very efficient under the current demographics, something the founders never anticipated. I know next to nothing about PFDR as I don't live in Portland. PERS was never pay as you go, although employers often tried to bargain with the PERS Board to defer payments until later in the demographic cycle of their employees. The Board gave employers a small amount of latitude and, alas, the part they never talk about is that the employers' bargaining in the 1990's contributed significantly to the system shortfall in the 2000's. You eventually have to pay the piper and the employers were counting on the same thing that everyone else was counting -- the go-go market to become self-sustaining. They were the victim of their own hubris. They tried to make the employees out to be the "devils", but those who understand the system know that WE didn't do a damn thing to create the system we were given, and we couldn't be faulted for expecting what we had be promised IN LIEU of salary increases over the years.

I strongly suggest that if you're interested, you read PERS' web page. It is a treasure trove of information.

The similarities between PERS, PFDR, and Social Security are slim.

Yes, and this thread is supposed to be about PFDR.

"The similarities between PERS, PFDR, and Social Security are slim.

Yes, and this thread is supposed to be about PFDR."


I couldn't agree with you more Jack. I didn't bring PERS into the discussion and would have remained a lurker on this conversation until a few readers injected incorrect PERS blather into the conversation. I've vowed I won't let this stuff stand unchallenged. You'll get no argument from me about it being off topic and I'm happy to return to lurk status until and unless someone feels the need to throw around bad facts about PERS again.

I'm not encouraged that we can resolve as a modern society the arguments about equity from vested public employees (strong employment security, relatively lower stress, limited accountability, etc.) and the rank and file "others" in private employ (employment "at will", unstable enterprises, labor/management trickery, loss of seniority and benefits). The reality of the comparisons seems too great, to me. So let's leave that issue for the moment and and look at those who vote to provide the benefits without considering longer-term impacts on the public at large:

The average legislative body bears limited collective responsibility and virtually no individual member accountability short of provable criminal activity. Only a good close look at this lack of accountability -- and some individual sentences for misbehavior via the courts -- would likely tighten up the decision-making at public entities when it comes to making promises and deferring liabilities. Much as has happened to corporate directors in recent years.

There are numerous cases around the country where ONE INDIVIDUAL PUBLIC OFFICIAL (not a board, commission, committee) has caused grievous financial harm to the public via identified administrative actions that did not match policies. Or where the policies could be "interpreted" differently. Or where exceedingly poor judgment was exercised. More often, these individuals are "reprimanded" and given a slap on the wrist and allowed to go quietly to pasture and safely await retirement. If we cannot deal with this level of known individual responsibility in the public sector, how can we do it at the much more diffused legislative body level?

Unlike much of the private business world, and in many institutions, exercising poor and costly judgment as a public official is rarely seen as a basis for sanction or removal. Until this attitude is changed, I see little hope to make our legislators consider more than the next election when it's time to vote. Portland citizens have a lot of company nationwide. Unfunded or too-generous pension and medical benefits for employees are the vampire in the shadows for many, many jurisdictions. And I think this issue is going to overshadow others and bring about much civil unhappiness within a decade or so.

"a few readers injected incorrect PERS blather into the conversation. I've vowed I won't let this stuff stand unchallenged."

Loose talk, misinformation, and unfounded accusations do tend to fly pretty thick and fast on blogs--especially those that focus on criticizing government. I appreciate the efforts of mrfearless47 to set the record straight on a matter that we Oregonians constantly hear about but which few of us understand.

The sum total of the "misinformation" that caused "mrfearless" to hijack this thread was:

I forget... how long is it before P.E.R.S. blows up?

If and when this blog wades into the PERS mess, his detailed analysis will be welcome.

especially those that focus on criticizing government.

Yes, the pro-government blogs -- especially the official ones written by politicians and bureaucrats -- are much more accurate, fair and informative. Nighty night now.

"If and when this blog wades into the PERS mess, his detailed analysis will be welcome."

Hey, I responded with accurate and up-to-date information that should have put to rest the continuing PERS canard. It was the responses to my response that caused the thread to spin out of control. You strive for accuracy and accountability on your blog. And I appreciate the opportunity to correct some of your readers when they write patently incorrect information about a subject I'm deeply familiar with. I would have been happy to have you inject yourself sooner into the discussion, but I figured that you were sitting on the sidelines for a reason. As a result, I took the opportunity to steer people to accurate information rather than continuing to mouth your favorite Oregon newspaper, the Oregonian.

Threads do spin out of control. This one was no big deal.

Oh, just because....

"So, please. Admit you hate PERS and public employees and move on."

"This is the kind of confusion that the public has and which I've been working for years to try and straighten out. Be mad at me for what I'm getting, but don't get mad at me for something I never have and never will get."

Crusader AND victim! ...or is it vice-versa?

Your attempt to conflate PERS and public employees is a common tactic among those who "hate" the possibility of an honest discussion.

You can have what you got and no one really cares, however much that may affect your self-image. Only idiots begrudge you your due.

And please don't whine about your reduced benefits to those in the private sector - it doesn't play.

Just continue to take your money and enjoy it - eat, drink, be merry, coin neologisms like "UNDIFFERENT", travel...


...just go quietly.

...just go quietly.


When pigs start to fly...

Mrfearless47; I'm certainly not as informed with particulars as you are. In reading your reply to my comment way above, you stated:

"my point is that the combination of the reforms enacted by the legislature AND the improved market have turned the PERS fund 180 degrees around. It is fully funded now...".

My point was that reviewing only a small segment of time, and definitely one that is benefical to your argument, is not a sound financial means of determining the success of the recent PERS reform. If you broaden the market perspective in time, financial history is contrary to the time period you cite.

I love a good analysis (with whatever the bias) as much as the next one, but I can't stand blowhards that post 10 comments on a thread of 27 total comments.

Jack, maybe it wasn't about PERS, but instead all about mrfearless?

And dare I ask what it is that he is less fearful of?

sign me: (not really all that) Harry

The pdx police and fire pension is a HUGE liability, coupled with tax issues ( SoWa,Pearl) When PDX decides to issue new muni's no I banker will touch it without HUGE fee's attached. The saddest part is when the wheels fall off and the taxpayers pic up the tab, all we can say is "told ya so". City and Muni gov are really creating a fragile financial situation. We need to reform the pension!!!

"My point was that reviewing only a small segment of time, and definitely one that is benefical to your argument, is not a sound financial means of determining the success of the recent PERS reform. If you broaden the market perspective in time, financial history is contrary to the time period you cite."

I suggest you spend some time you review the data published on the PERS website, including the CAFR and the "PERS By The Numbers". You will see that the aberrant time period was 2000-2002, and that 2003 - present follows much more closely the PERS experiences from about 1980 - 1999. I can't broaden the market perspective "in time" because the reforms weren't in effect before 2003. Moreover, even without the reforms, the broadened time perspective in PERS' history contradicts your point.

Sorry to belabor, but some people can't leave this topic alone.

Sorry to belabor, but some people can't leave this topic alone.

Tee hee. Irony...

Jack --

Going back to your original piece regarding the cops and specifically Sgt. Burton, I woder just how Burton was so fortunate in his timing to file for disability the day before the PPB was to fire him?

That was just amazingly fortunate timing wasn't it?

Hmmmmm.....wonder who tipped the good sergeant off so that he could get the disability claim just in time so that he could rip off the system?

Anybody at the Lazy O, or "Sleepy Mike" , our intrepid DA, looking into that question? Willle Week, maybe, which actually does some nvestigative reporting. I won't cause anyone reading this to spew coffee on their screen or keyboard by suggesting that the City Counil look into how Burton got tipped off by a crony infested, corrupt system

It does put into context Potter's extreme reaction to the feebees looking at City Hall, doesn't it?

The present safety workers in Portland cannot today assert the benefit of a higher status in a multi-tier pension modification scheme (for future work) as an exercise of remedial legislative-type power for there is no judicial compulsion, nor reasonable expectation of judicial compulsion. The Ninth Circuit in Robertson on October 24 rejected on the merits claims that the federal contract clause required that a pension scheme in existence on the date of hire must be maintained until such affected employees retire. They followed the Oregon SC in Struck without much fuss at all.

If I were Fitch or the SEC or the US Attorney for the district of Oregon I don't quite know exactly how I would address any local assertion (admission) of City of Portland liability by an expert actuary or bond counsel that far exceeds that which could be compelled in an Oregon court.

Oops . . . strike Struck and replace with Strunk.


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Woodbridge, Chardonnay 2011
King Estate, Pinot Noir 2011
Famille Perrin, Cotes du Rhone Villages 2010
Columbia Crest, Les Chevaux Red 2010
14 Hands, Hot to Trot White Blend

The Occasional Book

Saul Bellow - Mister Sammler's Planet
Phil Stanford - White House Call Girl
John Kaplan & Jon R. Waltz - The Trial of Jack Ruby
Kent Haruf - Eventide
David Halberstam - Summer of '49
Norman Mailer - The Naked and the Dead
Maria Dermoȗt - The Ten Thousand Things
William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying
Markus Zusak - The Book Thief
Christopher Buckley - Thank You for Smoking
William Shakespeare - Othello
Joseph Conrad - Heart of Darkness
Bill Bryson - A Short History of Nearly Everything
Cheryl Strayed - Tiny Beautiful Things
Sara Varon - Bake Sale
Stephen King - 11/22/63
Paul Goldstein - Errors and Omissions
Mark Twain - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Steve Martin - Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
Beverly Cleary - A Girl from Yamhill, a Memoir
Kent Haruf - Plainsong
Hope Larson - A Wrinkle in Time, the Graphic Novel
Rudyard Kipling - Kim
Peter Ames Carlin - Bruce
Fran Cannon Slayton - When the Whistle Blows
Neil Young - Waging Heavy Peace
Mark Bego - Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul (2012 ed.)
Jenny Lawson - Let's Pretend This Never Happened
J.D. Salinger - Franny and Zooey
Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol
Timothy Egan - The Big Burn
Deborah Eisenberg - Transactions in a Foreign Currency
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. - Slaughterhouse Five
Kathryn Lance - Pandora's Genes
Cheryl Strayed - Wild
Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov
Jack London - The House of Pride, and Other Tales of Hawaii
Jack Walker - The Extraordinary Rendition of Vincent Dellamaria
Colum McCann - Let the Great World Spin
Niccolò Machiavelli - The Prince
Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird
Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus - The Nanny Diaries
Brian Selznick - The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Sharon Creech - Walk Two Moons
Keith Richards - Life
F. Sionil Jose - Dusk
Natalie Babbitt - Tuck Everlasting
Justin Halpern - S#*t My Dad Says
Mark Herrmann - The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law
Barry Glassner - The Gospel of Food
Phil Stanford - The Peyton-Allan Files
Jesse Katz - The Opposite Field
Evelyn Waugh - Brideshead Revisited
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
David Sedaris - Holidays on Ice
Donald Miller - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Mitch Albom - Have a Little Faith
C.S. Lewis - The Magician's Nephew
F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ivan Doig - Bucking the Sun
Penda Diakité - I Lost My Tooth in Africa
Grace Lin - The Year of the Rat
Oscar Hijuelos - Mr. Ives' Christmas
Madeline L'Engle - A Wrinkle in Time
Steven Hart - The Last Three Miles
David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day
Karen Armstrong - The Spiral Staircase
Charles Larson - The Portland Murders
Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony
William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
Steven D. Stark - Meet the Beatles
Phil Stanford - Portland Confidential
Rick Moody - Garden State
Jonathan Schwartz - All in Good Time
David Sedaris - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Anthony Holden - Big Deal
Robert J. Spitzer - The Spirit of Leadership
James McManus - Positively Fifth Street
Jeff Noon - Vurt

Road Work

Miles run year to date: 377
At this date last year: 237
Total run in 2013: 257
In 2012: 129
In 2011: 113
In 2010: 125
In 2009: 67
In 2008: 28
In 2007: 113
In 2006: 100
In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269


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