Saturday, June 12, 2010

State pensions start to face reality

Research by economists, accountants and actuaries (including by NC State colleague Bob Clark) shows that most state and local governments have pension obligations that far exceed projected assets.  The options are not attractive: raise taxes, cut services, or cut promises of future benefits.  Today's WSJ reports that Colorado and Minnesota are starting to take modest but painful steps to reduce future benefits.  Colorado had been providing an annual automatic "cost-of-living" increase of 3.5 percent, whereas Minnesota had been providing 2.5 percent.  Under laws passed in each state, Colorado increases will be capped to 2 percent and Minnesota increases will be limited to 1 to 2 percent. 

The article quotes some state employees who retired counting on these future increases and notes (no surprise here) that lawsuits are being filed.   The article says nothing about retirees from the private sector who typically receive no pension benefit increase at all.  It also says nothing about current and future state employees who will undoubtedly have to settle for even smaller pensions.  How will we decide to balance the obligations to retirees with other commitments made by state and local governments?  This will be an interesting story to watch in the years ahead. 

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