Finding the Facts on Public Pensions
Pension administrators and policy experts presented success stories, strategies for managing public pensions and tools for collecting data on public pensions across the country at a March 29 CSG eCademy webcast, “The Facts on Public Pensions.” The webcast, which was presented in partnership with the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, introduced the Public Plans Data website, a free tool to compare plans across states and help inform debates about retirement security issues.
Officials from Delaware, which has a 92.7 percent funded state employees’ pension plan, were on hand to present some of their strategies for keeping their pension system healthy.
“We’ve been very fortunate; since 1976, our General Assembly and the governor have made a sustained commitment to not only funding the ARC (Annual Required Contribution), but fully funding the ARC,” said Bert Scoglietti, director of policy for Delaware’s Office of Management and Budget. “That commitment is certainly appreciated not only by us but by all the employees working for Delaware state government.” 1976 was the first year Delaware went to an actuarial basis for the state pension fund.
Delaware’s cost of living adjustments are not embedded into the pension statute but are considered by the legislature annually and funded on a five-year basis. Over the past 10 years, the state has had about four cost of living adjustments, which Scoglietti said are funded on an “aggressive basis.”
Scoglietti also credits the pension system’s “very active” board, with a deep expertise in finance, for the pension fund’s health. The board includes private-sector members with experience both in finance and corporate operations.
There is also a partnership between the executive and legislative branches on pension issues that has contributed to the state’s success in this area, according to Scoglietti. “I think it is fair to say the General Assembly doesn’t necessarily put a whole lot of politics in it,” he said. “They tend to put partisan issues aside when dealing with pension issues.”
Scoglietti also said it is helpful to have an up-to-date, objective and easy-to-use source of data to understand how their pension plan is performing compared to other funds across the country—and how similar states are managing their funds—when making policy decisions around their pension system.
Since 2007, the Center for State and Local Government Excellence has partnered with the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College to make data about public pensions plans available to the public and to the research community. The partnership has since expanded to include the National Association of State Retirement Administrators and the public plans database website,PublicPlansData.org, has added new features and data. The database is free, updated annually and includes financial, actuarial and other plan data from 2011 through 2014 for 150 of the nation’s largest local and state government plans.
“The vision for the Public Plans Database was really to create a repository of information that was accessible,” said Jean-Pierre Aubry, associate director of state and local research at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
The data is collected from pension systems’ financial reports from across the country and brought together in a navigable, downloadable format. “We try to present it in visual ways and provide immediate and intuitive comparisons so the information is quickly digestible without having to do all of the digging around in financial reports,” said Aubry.