Minnesota’s pension fund was recently revealed to be in crisis-mode after changing the accounting formula to more accurately reflect market realities:
“The jump caused the finances of Minnesota’s pensions to erode more than any other state’s last year as accounting standards seek to prevent governments from using overly optimistic assumptions to minimize what they owe public employees decades from now. Because of changes in actuarial math, Minnesota in 2016 reported having just 53 percent of what it needed to cover promised benefits, down from 80 percent a year earlier, transforming it from one of the best funded state systems to the seventh worst, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”
During the most recent recession, the Governmental Accounting Standards Boards made accounting rules changes because it began to be more apparent that a majority of local and state pension systems were continuously understating the long-term obligations. It was common practice to depend on and project 8%-10% investment returns even when the reality was more along the lines of 2%.
When the public sector (and unions) signed off on lavish pension provisions for the employee, they hoped there would be enough growth and investment returns to cover it way down the road. There were no provisions made to handle the possibility of a low-interest rate society or a fledgling economy like we’ve experienced the last nine years; they took their chances and their fallback was always that they could suck money from the taxpayer by raising taxes to cover budgeting shortfalls. That is reckless and irresponsible.
Years of fiscal mismanagement in the public sector has resulted in this fiscal nightmare. Because the public sector does not have the economic forces of competition to keep compensation levels in check, as the public sector does, it was always incumbent upon public negotiators to manage contracts properly. Failing to properly negotiate, making cozy deals, and maintaining unsustainable defined-benefit plans has created the soaring budget and pension deficits we see across the country. Though the rules changes to actuarial math are a start, in some places, it’s too little, too late.