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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Reality check on PERS

Portland's City Club -- a sleepy watchdog, if ever there was one -- has taken a new look at the Oregon government employee system. And a committee of the club says that despite the reforms resulting from bloody battles a few years ago, the system is still way too generous, and benefits need to be cut back, even if a court battle ensues. The full report is set to be released later today.

These City Club reports have a way of being tossed into the politicians' bottom file drawers, particularly when they involve third-rail topics like government pensions. We recall the club's 2006 take on the Portland police and fire retirement system, which currently represents an unfunded liability in the $3.1 billion range (not a typo). Tom Potter was mayor. Despite the shrill whistleblowing, a small bandage was placed on the financial equivalent of a severed carotid artery, and life went on as though there was nothing more to worry about. We doubt the report on the state system will get even that much action, but it's always good when somebody's speaking truth to power.

Comments (12)

Mr Bog - I agree 100%, but I think the only solution is to leave with my money and income (kinda like all the PERS recipients that move to WA to avoid paying OR income taxes on benefits).

Remember how badly the Legislature wanted to make their job full-time? So what do they spend their time on now? The budget? PERS reform (the lessons of the cruxificition of Greg MacPherson notwithstanding)?

Plastic bags.

When you have an entire ruling class that leads by burying their heads in the sand and crossing their fingers, I fear for the future of our children.

Nothing to see here folks, move along...

City Club makes good suggestions, although I think the reduction in money match for future retirees would be an illegal change. (I thought the courts had already ruled against an earlier attempt to do just that, but I could be wrong.) City Club is one of the few groups that has picked up on how the new IAP -- added during the 2003 reforms -- is actually a windfall for younger public employees, who get a defined benefit AND a defined contribution plan.

In general, City Club's recommendations seem focused on fixing the problem in the long run, rather than spending lots of money fighting uphill court battles. Probably a wise strategy.

Jack, you say "it's always good when somebody's speaking truth to power." I agree with your concerns about PERS, but I'm not sure I agree with your implication that our elected officials are the "power" here.

I spent some time this year on my own dime trying to get the legislature to adopt some new tax policies that I believe would be good for our state (but that I'm sure you and many of your readers wouldn't have liked). The thing that really surprised me was that there were certain issues that were just not even on the table for discussion, I think because of the perception that a large vocal group was willing to fight to the death on the issue and punish anyone who was perceived to be on the "other side." The idea of a sales tax is such an issue; elimination of the personal kicker seems to be such an issue; and certainly meaningful changes to PERS is such an issue.

On the one hand, what I describe is probably a decent reflection of the "will of the people", or at least "the people" who care enough about an issue to get involved. On the other hand, what this situation does is make it essentially impossible to address serious problems until they become a crisis that just can't be ignored (or until the political party on the other side of the issue has such a large legislative majority that they can ram through whatever they want.)

The other thing that happens is political compromise becomes really unlikely. Most politicians are not willing to be punished for agreeing to even small changes to something that a strong group opposes, even if the changes are part of a deal that arguably makes an overall improvement.

I think the net result is that democracy "wins", but serious problems cannot really be addressed until they lead to genuine crises.

Bob Wiggins

Most disturbing is the mindset of those who think we have a 'ruling class' instead of elected representatives.

There are indeed, two Americas. The 'have-nots' are just not who our leaders think they are.

"until they lead to genuine crises."

5 ... 4 .... 3 .... 2 ....

Be nice if we had some visionaries in govt instead of assts to Homer and G-E.

your implication that our elected officials are the "power" here.

Oh, no -- the "power" here is the unions and the politicians, probably in that order.

I follow PERS with great personal interest, read the annual reports and track the PERS fund performance on a monthly basis. I believe the PERS actuary is not correctly analyzing future liabilities.

Based on the last annual report PERS had a fund total of $50.9 billion as of 6/30/2010. Also the payout ratio (benefits/fund) was 5.7%. This ratio is too high in that it is over 4%. Almost all analysts believe that a payout ratio of 4% has a high probability of not being exhausted.

As of 4/30/2011 the PERS fund had a total of $59.7 billion and by my estimate the payout ratio for the fiscal year ending 6/30/2011 should be 5.1%. I have done projections out to 2027. Based on the age curve shown in the latest ‘PERS by the Numbers’ the payout to retirees should peak in 2014. The percentage of new retirees using Money Match is falling each year and will continue to fall in the future. I am being very conservative and projecting a 6% annual gain for the fund investments for the next 5 years and a 3% annual gain for the 5 years beyond that. In 2016 the payout ratio will fall to 4% and in 2019 to 3.5%.

Why? The Grim Reaper of mortality will be calling yearly, with greater vigor, within the PERS Tier 1 and Tier 2 cohorts. I project that in 2020 the PERS fund will be at $87.9 billion and no further contributions will be needed; ever. Instead in 2020 the PERS fund will be able to start paying out funds to all of the employers that paid in to the tune of $1 billion per year. This payout to employers will increase at a slow rate every year and the very conservatively managed fund, targeting 3% annual returns, will payout in perpetuity.

"the payout ratio (benefits/fund) was 5.7%. This ratio is too high"

Not if the beneficiaries live no more than approx 16 years after retirement. (Assuming payout means the diff between draws and yield).

Of course, since the avg PERS retirement age is 50 (sigh), that may not be the case. And with them leaving in droves to lock in benes.

Plus don't forget we are paying full-ride med insurance for all these people.

"Of course, since the avg PERS retirement age is 50 (sigh)"

Steve where did you get this statistic? The earliest retirement age PERS has ever had is age 50. And that was only for Tier 1 Police and Fire retirees. Just wondering.

John Kitzhaber is a PERS retiree. Do you really think there will be major reform anytime soon? Get real. The City Club comes out with this learned research just as the legislature is getting ready to shut down for the summer. Not a very effective plan for influencing change. The City Club is a just another tribe of elitists, like the folks at city hall. Different tribe, same mission - lecture everybody else about how to run their lives.

"since the avg PERS retirement age is 50 (sigh)"

You're right I mis-spoke, since PERS recipients CAN retire at 50 (actually, I thought it was after 25 years of service). I just keep reading about the mad scramble of teachers and fire-fighters freakin' out that we might actually do something about PERS retiring en masse.

I am not counting double-dippers like Randy Leonard and John Minnis and all the retirees who get re-hired to do the same job at 2x pay (salary + PERS).

The dividing line is do you give more than you get from the govt.

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