Saving Workers' Retirement
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www.ocpathink.org 1This publication was prepared by the Oklahoma Council of Public Aairs.
A Comprehensive Plan to Save Oklahomas Retirement Systems
OCPA is committed to delivering the highest quality and most reliable research on policy issues. OCPA guarantees that all original factual data are true and correct and that information attributed to other sources is accurately represented. OCPA encourages rigorous critique of its research. If the accuracy of any material fact or reference to an independent source is questioned and brought to OCPAs attention with supporting evidence, OCPA will respond in writing. If an error exists, it will be noted in an errata sheet that will accompany all subsequent distribution of the publication, which constitutes the complete and final remedy under this guarantee.
About OCPAThe Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) is an independent, nonprofit public policy organization a think tankwhich formulates and promotes public policy research and analysis consistent with the principles of free enterprise and limited government.
Implementing a defined-contribution retirement plan for all new non-hazard duty employees:
will help government keep its promises to current and retired government employees and allow for ad-equate funding of core services;
can be accomplished and will fairly compensate non-hazard duty government employees and teachers;
will help employees have control over their own re-tirement;
will ensure that pensions are available and sustain-able;
will result in a fair system from government that both public employees and taxpayers can trust;
will allow the state to fully cap unsustainable retire-ment debt (with no future accumulating liabilities to new employees); and
will give employees an asset that can be managed and transferred to employees families and allocated for other needs deemed important to employees.
The Challenge: Oklahomas public employee retirement liabilities are
staggering, $11 billion, and exceed the state-appro-priated budget by 52 percent.
Oklahomas public retirement employee liabilities grew again during the past year.
Across the United States of America and the world, defined-benefit retirement plans are in trouble due to an imbalance in promises and resources, a lack of realistic expectations, susceptibility to political misdi-rection, and inherent cost challenges.
Over the long term, Oklahoma needs real public em-ployee retirement reform of all six of its active state defined-benefit plans (See Appendix 1-1) in order to keep its promises to current and retired government non-hazard duty employees and to allow for ade-quate funding of core services.
The Solution: Real public retirement reform in Oklahoma will result
in peace of mind about safe and secure retirement for public employees.
Oklahoma must transition into a defined-contribu-tion retirement plan for all new non-hazard duty gov-ernment employees and teachers.
Oklahomas hazard-duty retirement systems must be reformed to be able to provide fair retirement levels at amounts that can be concurrently funded by tax-payers.
Executive SummaryReal public retirement reform in Oklahomawill result in peace of mind about safeand secure retirement for public employees
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These employees guaranteed retire-ment payment plans are threatened because benefits were promised with-out careful consideration of cost and were based on a faulty overreliance on investment returns that routinely fail due to numerous factors.
This discouraging story is becoming more and more common. Across the United States of America, both public1 and private2 guaranteed retirement programs suffer from threatening and growing liabilities and have significant exposure to be unable to meet their promises to the employees who de-pend upon the retirement. Accord-ing to Forbes magazine, the Northern Mariana Islands (a U.S. commonwealth in the Pacific Ocean) Retirement Fund filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012 and will fail in 2014.3 In 2010, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged the state of New Jersey with securities fraud for failing to tell bond investors it was underfunding its retirement funds.4 The SEC also re-cently charged the state of Illinois for failure to properly disclose pension liabilities and funding challenges to bond investors.5 The story of Prichard, Alabama, is a warning for all of us. Ac-cording to multiple reports, the public retirement system of Alabama became so overwhelmed that for periods of
time it ceased paying the benefits it owed retirees.6 No matter the source of the research regarding public retire-ment liabilities and future challenges, it is clear that the way retirement is pro-vided for public employees must be re-formed. Analysis from the Pew Center is the most conservative estimate of public retirement liabilities, because it reports what states report as liabilities. Organizations like the American Enter-prise Institute have noted that state-reported liabilities are based on large assumed rates of return, which do not reflect the reality of market conditions over the last decade.
Despite its reputation as a conser-vative stronghold, Oklahoma has not escaped the reckoning. The data show that Oklahoma is not immune to prob-lems associated with defined-benefit retirement systems.
Just two years ago, Oklahoma pub-lic retirement liabilities nearly equaled total Oklahoma state spending. Recog-nizing this problem, lawmakers made several changes to Oklahoma public retirement systems, the most impactful of which was a commonsense measure requiring that benefits be concurrently funded.7 These changes served to elim-inate nearly a third of Oklahoma pub-lic retirement liabilities. Unfortunately, Oklahoma pension liabilities still grew
If the states current retirement sys-tems are not reformed, in the long term it will be very difficult and unlikely for the state to keep its promise to retired, current, and future government em-ployees. Converting non-hazard duty retirement plans to a defined-contribu-tion plan will allow government to se-cure retirement and keep its promises.
In OCPAs Saving Workers Retire-ment: First Steps Toward Public Pension Reform In Oklahoma, we discussed the challenge facing public employee re-tirement systems. We make this case again in providing a comprehensive plan for Oklahomas retirement sys-tems.
Imagine public servants who have worked for a majority of their lives in service to a government entity. Their dedication was based on their desire to serve their fellow citizens and their commitment to work, in exchange for compensation including guaranteed retirement payment plans. Now imag-ine that these employees have retired, with the vast majority of their retire-ment dependent upon their guaran-teed retirement payment plans. But due to government officials who con-trol the retirement system and the in-herent structural flaws of a guaranteed retirement payout, the employees re-tirement payment plans are in danger.
1Pew Center on the States, The Widening Gap Update (Washington, D.C.: Pew Charitable Trust, 2012), http://www.pewstates.org/research/reports/the-widening-gap-update-85899398241. 2Emily Brandon, The 10 Biggest Failed Pension Plans, Money, U.S. News and World Report, August 23, 2010, http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/planning-to-retire/2010/08/23/the-10-biggest-failed-pension-plans.3Edward Siedle, PBGC Should Investigate Causes of Pension Failures, Investing, Forbes, February 15, 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsiedle/2013/02/15/pbgc-should-investigate-causes-of-pension-failures/.4Jennie L. Phipps, Could Your Public Pension Fail?, Retirement Blog, Bankrate.com, August 23, 2010, http://www.bankrate.c om/financing/retirement/could-your-public-pension-fail/.5Rob Wile, Illinois Settles with SEC for Misleading Muni InvestorsState Had Failed to Properly Disclose Underfunded Pension, Finance, Business Insider, March 11, 2013, http://www.businessinsider.com/sec-sues-illinois-2013-3.6Michael Cooper and Mary Williams Walsh, Alabama Towns Failed Pension Is a Warning, U.S. News, CNBC, December 23, 2010, http://www.cnbc.com/id/40791768.7Patrick B. McGuigan, Oklahomas Pension Reforms Are A Big Deal, Center for Economic Freedom, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, August 4, 2011, http://www.ocpathink.org/articles/1482.
As weve pointed out numerous times in these pages, Oklahomas pension crisis is far worse than the official estimates.
The official estimates are guided by the dictates of the GASB. Finally, after years of debate, GASB is taking the first timid steps toward better transparency, which will improve the integrity of Oklahomas pension accounting system.
While there are many details to these changes, there are two in particular that will have the most impact on Oklahomas pension sys-tems.
The first change shifts the ac-tuarial smoothing of investment returns in favor of current market valuation of assets. Currently, the Oklahoma Public Employees Retire-ment System (OPERS) [as well as the other state retirement systems list-ed in Appendix 1-1] uses a five-year smoothing of investment returns. While this provides a degree of sta-bility in the pension calculations, smoothing is completely unrealistic since assets could never be sold on the market based on their five-year average price.
The second change begins to separate the investment return on assets and the discounted value of pension benefits owed. Currently, pension systems use the long-term investment return on assets, usu-ally around 7 to 8 percent, as the discount rate on pension benefits owed.
However, using the same rate for the investment return and discount value wrongly confuses the vastly different risk profiles of assets and liabilities. On the asset side, pen-sion systems are heavily invested in stocks, which yield a very high
investment return at the cost of a having a high-risk profilein other words, returns can vary dramatical-ly from one year to another.
On the liability side, pension pay-outs are very predictable and, in most states, are guaranteed by the taxing authority of the state.
The new rules will still allow pen-sion plans to tie their investment returns rate to the discount rate as long as assets are projected to suffi-ciently cover benefit payments. For any years where benefits exceed as-sets, they will be treated as general obligation debt and discounted by the municipal bond rate, generally around 3 to 4 percent.
Alicia Munnell and her colleagues at the Center for Retirement Re-search at Boston College recently estimated the impact of the GASB rule changes on 126 pension sys-tems.
For example, Table 1 on page 6 shows the results for OPERS.
Despite the very modest changes in the GASB rules, OPERS, on a per-centage basis, would see a sizable change in its funded ratio, which represents the percentage of assets to liabilities.
At the beginning of January 2013, Oklahoma state Rep. Randy McDaniel, one of Oklahomas champions of pen-sion reform, made the case for further pension reform:11
The new year brings a renewed sense of opportunity. Resolutions are abundant. As legislative resolu-tions are made for the coming ses-sion, the impetus for more pension reform is building.
The need is clear. The new ac-tuary reports are completed. The unfunded liability of Oklahomas public pension system increased by
from fiscal year (FY)-2011 to FY-2013 and the funded ratio declined,8 despite over $1 billion in contributions annu-ally by government to the retirement systems. Here too taxpayers are facing a looming public employee retirement deficit that demands immediate atten-tion from their elected representatives.
As has been noted by Oklahomas State Treasurer Ken Miller and State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, the combined funded ratio of the states defined benefit plans is a dismal 65 percent. Mr. Jones also noted that even after years of mismanagement, in 11 of 12 recent years the state missed its pension obligations.9
Further, all of the systems have ex-perienced multiple periods of negative cash flow, where cash contributions to the systems do not cover cash payouts of the system. Continuing to operate on negative cash flow is unsustainable and puts retirees and taxpayers in the treacherous position of relying solely on investment gains to make ends meet within the system.
In 2012, the Governmental Account-ing Standards Board (GASB) passed new rules requiring government pen-sion plans to use more realistic invest-ment returns when calculating un-funded liabilities. This will impact all state-defined retirement systems and more accurately reflect their liabili-ties in FY-2014. When this happens, li-abilities for every system will increase again.
To be sure, new GASB standards, which will require public retirement plans to more fairly present the value of assets and liabilities, also further high-light the need for reform. Concerning the impact of such rule changes, OCPA research fellows J. Scott Moody and Wendy P. Warcholiks analysis (written in November 2012) reveals:10
8Oklahoma State Pension Commission, Summary of Actuarial Reports (Cambridge, Mass.: NEPC, 2013), http://www.state.ok.us/~ok-pension/reports/actuarial/2013%2002%2020%20Actuarial%20Summary.pdf.9 Randy Ellis, Commission urges Oklahoma Governor and lawmakers to improve pension funding, The Oklahoman, NewsOK.com, November 13, 2013, http://newsok.com/commission-urges-oklahoma-governor-and-lawmakers-to-improve-pension-funding/article/3904365.10J. Scott Moody and Wendy P. Warcholik, Oklahomas Pension Problems Are Worse than You Think, Center for Economic Freedom, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, November 5, 2012, http://www.ocpathink.org/articles/2071.11Randy McDaniel, Oklahoma Lawmaker: Need Exists for Further Pension Reform, NewsOK. The Oklahoman, January 6, 2013, http://newsok.com/oklahoma-lawmaker-need-exists-for-further-pension-reform/article/3743568.
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else. A crucial point to understand, high-
lighted by Bastiat 165 years ago, is that any government service neces-sarily comes at the expense of private production via taxation, either directly or indirectly through debt. Whatever value public employment provides, it depends entirely on a healthy private sector. Without a productive private economy, there is no tax base to fund public services. The deficit in the pub-lic pension funds represents a serious impediment to the ongoing health of Oklahomas private economy, upon which the pensioners ultimately de-pend. For the sake of their own finan-cial security, public employees need reforms that put their retirement pro-grams on a more sustainable course.
On the free market, labors value, and therefore wages, is ultimately de-termined by consumers. In fact, all the factors of productionland, labor,
and capitalderive their value from the consumer goods and services they produce. Compensation for labor is based on each workers marginal pro-ductivity. In other words, a worker is paid according to his or her marginal contribution to the firms production of goods and services. This compensation can be paid either in direct wages, or in other benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans. Just like other factors of production, such as capital and land, labor must pass the profit-and-loss test to prove its value. When a firm incurs losses, this is the markets signal that resources, including labor, are being used in a wasteful way (i.e., in a way that does not accord with con-sumer preferences). A profit, on the other hand, communicates a produc-tive use of labor.
Notably, there is no profit-and-loss test when it comes to government ex-penditures. The resources used to pay
a billion dollars last year. Moreover, several structural deficiencies still exist, especially regarding the fire-fighter retirement plan.
Pension obligations are one of the most challenging fiscal issues confronting every state govern-ment. For decades, decision-makers authorized more benefits without providing the necessary funding. As a result, most state governments were struggling to meet their pen-sion funding requirements prior to the economic downturn.
[W]orthy goals of financial sus-tainability and intergenerational fairness necessitate legislative ac-tion.
Illinois provides an example of the economic consequences of in-action. The state is on track to spend more on its government pensions than on education by 2016. Under current actuarial assumptions, Illi-nois Gov. Pat Quinn said, required state pension contributions will rise to [more than] $6 billion in the next few years if no comprehensive pen-sion reform is enacted, which will continue to result in significant cuts to education.
Illinois massive unfunded pen-sion liability has led to credit down-grades and tax increases. Poor cred-it leads to higher borrowing costs. . . .
These byproducts of a poorly funded pension system are avoid-able.
This session, I will author legisla-tion intended to strengthen the state retirement system. The co-alition for more pension reform is becoming larger, enhancing the probability of success. Many posi-tive developments are transpiring throughout Oklahoma. Support for greater financial responsibility is strong, while the opportunities for economic prosperity continue to grow.
If government retirement programs are not structurally reformed, they will fulfill Frederic Bastiats classic 1848 warning, Government is the great fic-tion through which everybody endeav-ors to live at the expense of everybody
Table 1Funded Ratios for Oklahoma PublicEmployees Retirement SystemFiscal Years 2006 to 2011
Public Employees Retirement System
(a) Assumes change in new funded ratio for 2011 is equivalent to estimated change in 2010. See endnote 5 for source.
Sources: Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System; Center for Retirement Research at Boston College; Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs
What has led to such a discrepancy between public and private retirement programs? To a great degree, the dis-parity is simply embedded in the logic of government action. Politicians are inclined to treat government employ-ees favorably (and make promises bet-ting on the future) since they are a reli-able voting base. However, politicians would prefer to grant those favors in ways that wont raise the ire of private taxpayers. Because large increases in direct wages to public employees are potentially more obvious and provoca-tive, politicians instead extend gener-ous retirement benefits that tend to pass under most citizens radar.
Another political advantage of re-tirement benefits over direct wage hikes is that the cost is put off for fu-ture politicians and taxpayers to worry about. Public choice theory teaches us that politicians have uniquely short time horizons; all they are incentiv-ized to care about is getting through the next election. Any consequences that extend beyond that point do not demand their attention. This phenom-enon is demonstrated over and over again as legislatures continually paper over problems with temporary solu-tions that do little more than kick the can down the road.
Private businesses, on the other hand, dont have the luxury of kicking the can down the road. In the private sector, that is a formula for bankruptcy. Longer retiree life expectancies and underwhelming market returns have led many firms to abandon defined- benefit plans for far more sustainable defined-contribution programs. It is long past time for public pension pro-grams to follow suit.
Public employees joining the call for reform is a welcome development. The current situation is simply unsus-tainable. Whatever shortfall exists now will only worsen with time if left as is. Better a controlled restructure now that keeps its promises to current em-
ployees and retirees than great pain and broken promises later. We are wit-nessing in Greece and other European countries the fate that awaits us if we wait too long to act. If the public bur-den on the private economy grows too large, draconian cuts and total eco-nomic breakdown are a real eventual-ity. The state cannot afford to infinitely make contributions exceeding $1 bil-lion for government employee retire-ment and still meet the funding needs of core services. The current unfunded liability of the state retirement systems alone exceeds individual lawmaker ap-propriations to every state agency.13
This means that state retirement lia-bilities, debt, exceeds by 52 percent all lawmaker direct appropriations. Okla-homas retirement liabilities are more than 1 times the entire state appro-priated budget! To understand how dire the situation is for our state retire-ment systems, and their unsustainable cost, one need only review an indepen-dent funding study of the plans (Ap-pendix 1, page 3). Currently, employer contributions as a percent of covered payroll are at astronomical and unsus-tainable amounts. For OPERS 15.7 per-cent, for OTRS 17.2 percent, for OPPRS 30.1 percent, for OFFRS 62.1 percent, for OLERS 62.5 percent, and for UJJRS 22.2 percent (See Appendix 1-1). In the interest of the Oklahoma taxpayers, our overall economic vitality, and ev-eryones retirement security, we must act decisively to bring true and lasting reform to the pension systems.
public employees are obtained by co-ercive taxation, and the services ren-dered by public institutions are often monopolized, eliminating consumer choice. Absent voluntary payment and competition, there is no profit or loss, and therefore no rational method by which to determine the proper level of public employee compensation. At the very least, it would seem reason-able that public employee compen-sation should not exceed that of its source, namely private employees. That is simply not the case when it comes to retirement benefits and all forms of compensation and employ-ment security.
Over the last few decades, private employers have had to come to terms (pushed by the always present profit-and-loss test) with the unsustainable nature of defined-benefit pension programs, turning instead to defined-contribution plans. According to econ-omist Peter Orszag:12
In 1985, a total of 89 of the For-tune 100 companies offered their new hires a traditional defined-benefit pension plan, and just 10 of them offered only a defined-contri-bution plan. Today, only 13 of the Fortune 100 companies offer a tra-ditional defined-benefit plan, and 70 offer only a defined-contribution plan.
Unsurprisingly, government bureau-cracies have lagged the market in tak-ing similar steps to reform retirement benefits. Defined-benefit plans can be seen to a large extent as an artificial consequence of government interven-tion in the first place. During World War II, the government imposed wage and price controls on the private market in an attempt to tamp down inflation-ary pressures due to the vast wartime spending. With the government limit-ing direct wages, companies increas-ingly turned to indirect compensa-tionnamely, health insurance and defined-benefit pensions.
12Peter Orszag, Defined Contributions Define Health-Care Future, Bloomberg Businessweek, December 9, 2011, http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-12-09/defined-contributions-define-health-care-future-peter-orszag.html.13House Fiscal Division, FY-13 Oklahoma Budget Overview (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma House of Representatives, 2012), http://www.ok.gov/triton/modules/newsroom/newsroom_article.php?id=223&article_id=11742.
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14 Matt Ayer, Its Time for Government Pension Reform.15Girard Miller, Pension Puffery, Public Money, Governing, January 5, 2012, http://www.governing.com/columns/public-money/col-Pension-Puffery.html#ht4.
The SolutionMany states are taking bold steps
and implementing structural reforms. OCPA research fellow Matt A. Mayer notes:14
[In 2011] Rhode Island Democrats were bucking the labor unions and pushing through reform legislation that adopted a hybrid pension sys-tem. The hybrid system provides employees with a small defined-benefit annuityone that wont require a taxpayer bailoutand a defined-contribution component that provides them the portabil-ity and inheritability of a 401(k) ac-count. The reform is estimated to save Rhode Island taxpayers rough-ly $3 billion.
Back in 1997, Michigan, led by Re-publican Gov. John Engler, ended defined-benefit plans for new state workers. Today, 49 percent of Michi-gan state workers are in defined-contribution plans. This reform is saving Michigan taxpayers billions of dollars.
Even left-of-center voters in Cali-fornia are taking bolder steps than policymakers in Oklahoma. In San Diego and San Jose, voters over-whelmingly passed pension reform ballot measures. In San Diego, fu-ture government workers will be placed in a 401(k)-type defined-contribution plan. In San Jose, the new plans reduce the benefits of workers and require a higher em-ployee contribution rate.
In addition, Louisiana has moved to reduce growth in taxpayer liabil-
ity by limiting taxpayer guarantees to contributions made on behalf of employees. Pending judicial ap-proval, the Louisiana reform sets up a cash balance plan for all new employees.
The reality is that the private sec-tor has moved away from pensions, making them largely a creature of government, because guaranteed large annual payouts for pension-ers lives make predicting actual liabilities highly speculative and costly.
Oklahoma has actual experience with conversions from defined-benefit plans to defined-contribution plans. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife converted its retirement plan for new employees to a defined-contribution plan for all new employees, and the agency reports the change has been a huge success. Oklahomas public retire-ment plans will be a challenge to solve. If efforts are made every year, progress will be seen. Some may be tempted to retain the status quo because some plans current funded ratios are near or exceed 80 percent. This is false hope, as retirement systems must reach a fund-ed ratio of 100 percent or more, due to the necessity for high-return years to compensate for negative-return years (often recessions) with defined-benefit plans. The safest and most prudent funded ratio for retirees who rely on the retirement and the taxpayers re-quired to fund the system is 100 per-cent or more.15
Due to the similarity of public em-
ployees eligible for OPERS and private-sector employees, and the current funded status of OPERS, the system is the best place to start implementing significant structural reforms. Because of the inherent problems of defined-benefit plans, the private sector is clos-ing defined-benefit plans and moving most employees to defined-contribu-tion plans where certainty of costs and contributions benefit both the em-ployee and the employer. Due to OP-ERS current SoonerSave infrastructure, OPERS already has a structure to imple-ment a full defined-contribution plan for all new OPERS-eligible employees. OPERS temporarily is in the easiest po-sition to transfer to a defined-contri-bution plan for all employees because it has a sufficient enough dedicated revenue stream to allow for a transition without increasing costs.
Moving new non-hazard duty gov-ernment employees and teachers to a defined-contribution plan while also providing a sufficient dedicated rev-enue stream to pay down existing un-funded liabilities is what is necessary to stop the accumulation of liabilities for promises to new employees and to set a dedicated path for paying down all retirement liabilities. Defined-contri-bution plans also have the added ben-efit of the incentive such plans provide for employees to actively save and pre-pare for retirement. Defined-benefit plans often fail to incentivize employ-ees to contribute toward their retire-ment and result in little preparation for retirement. Defined-contribution plans
Establish a defined-contribution (DC) plan, effective July 1, 2016, for all new teachers and judges:
The plan would pay 4 percent of annual salary immediately, in-creasing to 7 percent of annual salary beginning in the fourth year of service with the state [the state would contribute 4 percent of sal-ary to the teachers 401(k) begin-ning when the employee is hired].
The plan would take the difference of the new DC plan contribution and the old defined-benefit (DB) plan contribution and inject it into the system, using it to pay down the debt over time.
To preserve the funding stream for OTRS (Oklahoma Teachers Retire-ment System) and eliminate tran-sition costs, current OTRS teachers could not convert to the new DC plan.
To preserve the funding stream for OTRS and judges, all employ-ers would be required to maintain overall contributions to the system as of their contribution levels for fiscal year ending June 30, 2012 (FY-2012). Even when a current employee leaves employment, the employer would still have to con-tribute to the current DB systems as if the employee were still em-ployed (until that position is filled by a new employee).
Based on an independent actuarial study of these recommendations (see Appendix 1-1), such a plan would have no transition costs, would not increase liability of the system, and would allow the state to fully pay off the liability of all the systems over time based on the recent asset return of the system. This is accomplished by the dedication of the savings to pay off the unfunded liability, and capping liabilities. While the actuarial study analyzes the effects of converting hazard duty systems to a defined contribution plan, OCPA does not recommend making such a change
for the hazard duty systems.Also, based on a recent state com-
pensation survey, the average private-sector defined contribution is approxi-mately 5.7 percent. So a plan such as this not only provides both public employees and taxpayers certainty for retirement costs, but also still provides a competitive benefit.16
Transitioning to a defined-contribu-tion plan for all new hires of non-haz-ard duty employees and teachers will have several positive effects. It will en-sure that Oklahoma can keep its prom-ises to current employees and retirees by putting a plan in place to ensure their promised benefits are funded and that a retirement plan for new em-ployees can be adequately funded and realistic in its promises. Defined-contri-bution plans also provide a significant advantage to the employee. Since the contribution is a fixed and guaranteed number based on an individuals salary, given the federal requirements for cur-rent payment of defined-contribution plans, no long-term liability can be ac-cumulated. Also, defined-contribution plans are mobile, just like the current workforce. Many state employees are employed by the state for a time period (six years or less) often shorter than the vesting period required for the state defined-benefit plans. This means that many employees leave state employ-ment and get no retirement contribu-tions from the state if they do not meet the vesting period.
Defined-contribution plans also become assets of the employee that are easily transferred and retained by the family upon death. The states defined-benefit plans only guarantee a long-term monthly payment, and do not provide the employee with an asset the employee owns. Gener-ally upon death, the defined benefit is significantly reduced for the surviving spouse and cannot be used for other vital financial means or hardships fac-ing a participant. Defined-contribution
also result in an accumulated asset that employees can transfer to other family members upon death or other needs. Defined-benefit plans generally are a promise of a fixed payment as long as the retiree is living, with a limited op-tion of a reduced payment to a spouse upon deathand an employees defined-benefit plan generally is not transferable otherwise.
OCPA recommends that lawmakers implement the following for all new non-hazard duty government employ-ees and teachers:
Establish a defined-contribution (DC) plan, effective July 1, 2014, for all new state (OPERS-eligible) employees:
The plan would pay 4 percent of annual salary immediately, in-creasing to 7 percent of annual salary beginning in the fourth year of service with the state [the state would contribute 4 percent of salary to the employees 401(k) beginning when the employee is hired].
The plan would take the difference (16.5 percent minus 7 percent) of the new DC plan contribution and the old defined-benefit (DB) plan contribution (16.5 percent) and in-ject it into the system, using it to pay down the debt over time.
To preserve the funding stream for OPERS and eliminate transition costs, current OPERS employees could not convert to the new DC plan.
To preserve the funding stream for OPERS, all employers would be required to maintain overall con-tributions to the system as of their contribution levels for fiscal year ending June 30, 2012 (FY-2012). Even when a current employee leaves a state agency, the agency would still have to contribute to the current DB system as if the em-ployee were still employed (until that position is filled by a new em-ployee).
16State of Oklahoma Office of Personnel Management, Annual Compensation Report, Fiscal Year 2010 (Oklahoma City: Office of Personnel Management, 2010), http://www.ok.gov/opm/documents/FY10Compensation-Accessible.pdf.
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plans also help employees more ad-equately and realistically plan for re-tirement by encouraging retirement savings on behalf of the employee and rewarding work as opposed to prema-ture retirement.
Structural retirement reform of non-hazard employees to a full defined-contribution retirement plan for all new employees is necessary. Convert-ing public retirement systems to a de-fined-contribution plan is the only way to permanently end the accumulation of liabilities to future employees. Plac-ing all new employees in a defined-contribution plan is the only risk-free retirement plan that keeps promises to employees and protects both employ-ees and taxpayers from the risk of po-litically mismanaged future promises. Other options still require government to make a promise, a guarantee incur-ring debt, with just a lesser amount of risk, but risk is involved.
The chief challenge facing the haz-ard duty state retirement systems is the allowance of an exorbitant benefit option, the current over-rich deferred
retirement option plans (DROPs). These plans allow for participants to have an enrichment that no state employ-ees, teachers, and few private citizens receive. According to the Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System (OFFPRS), a DROP works as ac-cording to the following:17
After election to participate, a members normal retirement benefit is calculated as of the effective date of the [DROP] election. The System defers the payment of the pension benefit to the member until the mem-ber actually terminates employment. The member shall terminate employ-ment after five (5) years of the effec-tive date of the election. The de-ferred pension benefit is deposited into the electing members [DROP] account. The member remains em-ployed as an active firefighter but is no longer required to pay contribu-tions to the system. The employers contributions will continue to the sys-tem and members [DROP] account is credited with one-half (1/2) of the employers contribution...
The [DROP] account will earn in-terest at a rate of two (2) percentage points below the annual rate of re-turn to the Systems investment port-folio, but no less than the actuarial assumed interest rate which is cur-rently seven and one-half (7.5%). The interest is simple interest and will be credited on the ending June 30 bal-ance.
This means that participants not only get a healthy guaranteed retire-ment, but also get what amounts to a cash savings account with guaranteed interest of at least the assumed rate of return for the system! Even more egre-gious, some are allowed this option retroactively, thus allowing a partici-pant to game the system and make the election based on knowledge of mar-ket returns! Such a benefit is obviously unsustainable, as evidenced by the fact that, for example with OFFPRS, the to-tal value of DROP accounts equals 26 percent when compared to the actuar-ial value of OFFPRS assets. This benefit must be removed for all new hazard duty employees.
ConclusionMoving all new non-hazard duty employees and teachers to a defined-contribution plan will be a success, just as
experienced by the transition of the Oklahoma Wildlife Departments retirement plan to a defined-contribution plan. Moving all new non-hazard duty employees and teachers to a defined-contribution plan while also providing a sufficient dedicated revenue stream to pay down existing unfunded liabilities will help Oklahoma keep its promise to current employees and retirees and would establish a promising and secure future for all Oklahomans.
...a defined-contribution plan isthe only risk-free retirement plan that
keeps promises to employees and protects both employees and taxpayers...
Funding Study forState of Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System
Teachers Retirement System of Oklahoma
Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System
Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System
Oklahoma Law Enforcement Pension and Retirement System
State of Oklahoma Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges
Innovation Inspired by Experience
IntroductionPension Applications was engaged to provide an analysis
of the following defined-benefit pension plans (Plans): State of Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement Sys-
tem (OPERS) Teachers Retirement System of Oklahoma (Teachers) Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System (Po-
lice) Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System
(Fire) Oklahoma Law Enforcement Pension and Retirement
System (Law) State of Oklahoma Uniform Retirement System for Jus-
tices and Judges (Judges)The focus of the analysis in this report is on the funded sta-
tus of the Plans, amortization of the unfunded liability under certain scenarios, and a brief discussion of plan attributes. The 2012 Actuarial Valuations are the basis for the projec-tions contained in this report. The report will not provide any conclusions or recommendations; the information herein is to be utilized by those tasked with making decisions regard-ing the aspects covered.
Retirement Plan Design PhilosophyFor many years, defined-benefit plans were the plan of
choice for both private and public employers. Indeed, de-fined benefit plans have provided countless retirees the ability to retire comfortably without fear of outliving their income due to the pooling nature of mortality risk or los-ing their investments since the employer assumes this risk. In the last decade, defined benefit plans have struggled as the cost levels and volatility have caused many employers to cease offering these vehicles. The private sector has seen massive numbers of plan freezes and terminations. Defined benefit plans are still quite popular in the public sector but are struggling with the issues mentioned.
The primary options that have been proposed to deal with the defined-benefit problems are:
Continue the course with the defined-benefit plan as investment markets will provide enough returns to help fully fund the plan.
Place all employees or newly hired employees into a dif-ferent type of plan that may ultimately cost less or be less volatile.
It is not clear whether either of these approaches will
achieve employers goals, and they are not without their own problems. In the first case, attempts to achieve great-er returns can put the plans further at risk of losing assets, causing required contributions to escalate further, possibly jeopardizing basic services to taxpayers in the case of public entity sponsors. Indeed, the pension investment landscape is now focused more on risk control (keeping the assets that are here today) than shooting for unreasonably high returns.
In the second case, reviewing the characteristics of differ-ent plan types and the goals of the plan sponsor is most ap-propriate. Many sponsors have changed to defined-contri-bution or hybrid plans such as cash balance plans in hopes to save money. However, while the benefit accrual patterns of these plans may be different than a defined-benefit plan, the only way to reduce costs is to reduce the level of ben-efits provided or eliminate other components such as the lifetime income guarantee. The type of plan selected does not inherently make benefits less costly.
Investment risk is transferred to the employee in a defined-contribution plan. A cash balance plan is a defined-benefit plan that mimics a defined-contribution plan in-vestment risk usually stays with the employer, though there are designs that can share this risk with employees. Tradi-tional defined-benefit plans are also evolving designs to share investment risk(1).
(1) Pensions & Investments, April 29, 2013, Adjustable pension plan design begins to gain converts.
Analysis of Current PlansThe following table presents key metrics reflecting the
funded status of the Plans as reflected in the most recent actuarial valuations except as noted. The amortization years required to pay off the unfunded liability are based on the assumptions contained in the valuations and contributions as determined for each plans funding policy and the results of the 2012 actuarial valuations. The actual number of years to pay off the unfunded will be determined experience de-viations from the assumptions or contributions less than the determined under the funding policies. Investment returns in excess of the assumptions and contributions in excess of the funding policies will serve to reduce the number of years to pay off the liability; conversely, investment returns less than the assumptions and contributions below the funding policies will serve to increase the number of years required to pay off the liability.
It is importation to distinguish between two types of amortization payments in the plans, level dollar and level percentage of payroll. A level dollar amortization is similar to a mortgage payment in that it does not change from year to year. A level percentage amortization starts smaller than the level dollar amount but increases over time based on the as-sumed payroll growth. If actual payroll growth matches the
assumed growth, then the payment, though increasing in dollar amount, will remain a constant percentage of payroll. However, if actual payroll grows slower than anticipated, the payment will grow as a dollar amount and as a percentage of payroll. The assumed payroll growth and actual growth over the last five years are shown in the table.
Sensitivity to Asset ReturnsThe actual number of years required to pay off the un-
funded liability will be determined by experience of the plan, with asset returns being the largest factor. In the table below, we estimate the number of years required to pay off
the unfunded liability based on several asset return scenari-os. For purposes of this analysis, we have kept the contribu-tions at the same percentage of pay as in the 2012 actuarial valuations in reality, the contributions will increase or de-crease based on plan experience.
(1) Amortizations are paid as either a level dollar amount or level percentage of payrool.
(2) Calculated as a part of this analysis.
To the best of my knowledge, this report is complete and accurate and the calculations were performed in accordance with generally accepted actuarial principles and practices. The undersigned actuary is a members of the American Academy of Actuaries and other professional actuarial organizations and meets the General Qualification Standards for Prescribed Statements of Actuarial Opinions to render the actuarial opinion contained herein.
L. Gregg Johnson, EA, MAAA, MSPA, CFA, AIF
Sensitivity to Plan Changes and Terminal FundingThe following changes to the pension plan were consid-
ered: Assume new employees go into for a defined contribu-
tion (DC) plan with contribution of 7% Assume total contributions for the employees remain-
ing in defined benefit plans (DB) to be same % of pay as in 2012 valuation
Assume an additional employer contribution is made annually to pension plan equal to 2012 % of pay for employees going into the DC plan less the contribution into the DC plan for these employees
Purchase annuities for all participants remaining in DB plans at the point in time when assets are sufficient to do so
The assumed plan changes will not add any new addi-tional liabilities to the existing plans.
We utilized the population and all assumptions from the
July 1, 2012 actuarial valuations except as noted in the As-sumptions section of this report.
For purposes of this study, liabilities are defined as the cost of purchasing annuities from an insurance company for participants in the plan. This liability is higher than that cal-culated using actuarial valuation rate as a discount rate since insurance companies are currently using a discount rate be-low 3% to price annuities. Therefore, if assets are assumed to earn the rate used in the actuarial valuation, it will take lon-ger to accumulate enough assets to purchase annuities. For purposes of this study, we have used 3.5% as the discount rate of annuities, reflecting an assumed slight increase in in-terest rates.
The number of years to accumulate enough assets to purchase annuities will be highly dependent on the actual return on assets during the period. Therefore, we have pro-vided the estimated number of years on several compound rates of return:
AssumptionsFuture experience assumed to follow the July 1, 2012 actuarial valuations assumptions except as noted below:
Payroll increase for employees remaining in DB plans: -3.0% Annuity Purchase Rate: 3.5%
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