Last week, Dallas Mayor Michael Rawlings sent a scathing letter to the Dallas Police and Fire Pension (DPFP) Board demanded that withdrawals be halted immediately until the "solvency and actuarial soundness of the Pension System is restored." That said, the Mayor's request was seemingly ignored as he has now filed a lawsuit with the Dallas District Court to force the pension board to halt withdrawals amid a "run on the bank."
Within the suit, Rawlings notes that $500 million in lump-sum withdrawals have been made from the DPFP since August 2016 with $80 million of that amount being withdrawn in the first 2 weeks of November alone. The suit continues on to allege that "this mass exodus of DROP funds amounts to a “run on the bank” and is exacerbating the financial peril of the Pension System as a whole."
In performing these ministerial duties, the Board has a duty to ensure that programs, such as the Pension System’s optional Deferred Retirement Option Plan (“DROP”), which is not a constitutionally protected benefit (or “benefit” at all), do not impair or reduce the Pension System’s core constitutionally protected benefits, e.g., service retirement benefits. The Board is willfully failing to perform these ministerial duties.
The Pension System, which the Board oversees, is in the midst of a financial crisis. In early 2016, the Board was warned by its own actuary that absent radical change,the Pension System would become insolvent within 15 years—irrevocably eradicating the constitutionally protected service retirement benefits (and other constitutionally protected benefits) of police and firefighter personnel of the City and their beneficiaries.
Critically, this 15-year projection of insolvency was based upon two overly optimistic assumptions that the Board has now known to be incorrect for several months. First, the actuary assumed that the Pension System’s $2.7 billion in assets would remain stable, even though approximately 56% of these assets were composed of optional DROP funds, which have historically been permitted to be withdrawn in lump-sums upon demand (even though this option was used infrequently before this year). Second, the actuary assumed that the Pension System would achieve its targeted 7.25% return or more on itsinvestments for the next 15 years.
Publication of this looming insolvency scenario prompted some DROP Participants to withdraw their DROP funds in lump-sum, which created a “snowball”effect, leading a staggering number of other DROP Participants to withdraw nearly $500 million in optional lump-sum DROP funds from the Pension System from August 13, 2016 to present. Over $80 million of these lump-sum DROP withdrawals have occurred within the first two weeks of November 2016 alone. Over this three-month time period, the Board has knowingly allowed DROP funds to continue to be withdrawn at record levels even though it is aware that doing so is irreparably harming the Pension System’s solvency and liquidity.
Lump-sum DROP withdrawals for 2016 are now on pace to be over 15 times higher than their historical average. This mass exodus of DROP funds amounts to a “run on the bank” and is exacerbating the financial peril of the Pension System as a whole.
The DPFP contreversy comes as hundreds of police and firefighters have poured millions into "DROP" accounts in which they were guaranteed exorbitant returns of 8% while the pension board has proposed a $1 billion bailout from the city of Dallas.
The city estimates that, as of November, 517 police and firefighters have DROP accounts containing more than $1 million. One, belonging to an unnamed first responder, has $4.3 million in it, city figures show. On average, the city estimates that the average DROP account contains nearly $600,000.
The controversy all comes at a time when the board has asked the cash-strapped city for a bailout over $1 billion. The board's position is that they legally can't stop the withdrawals, but the mayor disagrees.
Of course, this all begs the question of whether the Dallas Police and Fire Pension will be the first pension ponzi to burst?