It is no surprise that pension funds in the US are significantly underfunded (median 72% funded). California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CALPERS), specifically, is about 26% short of meeting its long-term commitments. Like most major pension funds, it uses smoke-and-mirrors to avoid this yawning gap by smoothing over a long enough timeframe where 'hope' for growth in assets triumphs over the reality of liabilities (through a 'rolling' 15- or 30-year window - that therefore never comes due). However, under a new plan proposed by CALPERS' chief actuary, they will shorten the horizon from 15 to 5 years and aim for a specific date 30 years from now to be 100% funded (instead of a rolling hope-driven horizon). The impact of this, as Bloomberg reports, may mean California taxpayers municipal pension contributions will rise as much as 50%. "This is clearly the right thing to do," notes the fund's CEO, "as it will reduce the risk of the system," though we suspect the 'system' may just get a little upset at having to face this 50% 'tax-hike'.
California taxpayers may see the municipal pension contributions they fund for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System rise as much as 50 percent under a plan to fill $87 billion in unfunded obligations.
Alan Milligan, the fund’s chief actuary, recommends that the biggest U.S. pension stop spreading out losses and gains over 15 years and instead set rates based on how much is needed to reach 100 percent funding within 30 years
The Sacramento-based pension, known as Calpers, is about 26 percent short of meeting its long-term commitments. The state and cities contributed $7.8 billion in the last fiscal year, almost four times more than a decade earlier.
Under Milligan’s proposal, the fund would shrink its 15- year rolling period for asset smoothing to five years and amortize gains and losses over a fixed 30-year period rather than the current rolling 30-year period. A fixed period means that all obligations will be fully funded by a specific date.
If approved, the rates charged to governments would increase by as much as 50 percent.
“This will reduce the risk our system currently faces,” said the fund’s chief executive officer, Anne Stausboll. “This is clearly the right thing for us to do.”
The median funded status of state pensions, meaning how much money a system has in order to pay its obligations, fell to 72 percent in 2011 from 83 percent in 2007, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.