Many states like Connecticut have begun to take action to reduce their unfunded pension liabilities, but those changes have yet to be reflected in an annual report released Monday by the Pew Center for the States.
The report found that 34 states failed to maintain safe levels of funding, which most experts agree is about 80 percent. Using 2010 data the report found that Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky and Rhode Island had the worst levels of funding. All were under 55 percent funded in 2010.
“While it is currently difficult for states to make contributions toward their retirement systems, given the drop in revenues and fiscal stress from the recession, many of these states also failed to make the recommended contributions when times were good,” the report concluded.
Connecticut paid its full annual pension contribution just three times from 2005 to 2010, according to the report. In 2010 the system was 53 percent funded and faced a $12 billion gap.
But the bad news doesn’t end there. The state also had a nearly $27 billion tab for retiree health care costs, none of which was funded when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office 18 months ago.
None of this is news to Malloy, state employee unions, or lawmakers who have been chipping away at the issue over the past two years.
In order to avoid layoffs in 2011 the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition agreed to reductions in wages, retirement, and health benefits. Then in 2012 Malloy and the unions reached an agreement to increase funding to their pensions.
“Under Governor Malloy’s leadership, we put the pension fund on stable ground, a move that will save the state $6 billion over the next twenty years,” Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman said. “He’s also managed to reduce our state’s healthcare liabilities by more than $13 billion.”
Doba said all the Pew report does is confirm what Malloy already knew when he took office – “that the policies of previous administrations left our state with unfunded liabilities that would have drastically affected government operations had they been left to fester.”
The plan approved by the legislature’s Appropriations Committee a few months ago increases by $125 million the state’s annually required contribution to the pension fund and seeks to achieve 80 percent funding by 2025 and 100 percent funding by 2032.
“Keeping up with the annual required contribution is perhaps the most effective way that states can responsibly manage their long-term liabilities for public sector retirement benefits,” the report found. “Pew’s research shows that states that consistently make their full payments have better-funded retirement systems and smaller gaps. States that paid the full annual contribution for their pensions were 84 percent funded in 2010, while states that did not were only 72 percent funded.”
Larry Dorman, spokesman for AFSCME Council 4, one of the largest state employee unions, said what the governor and legislature did this year to shore up the pension fund was a major accomplishment that helps future retirees, as well as taxpayers.
“The people at Pew are good reputable people, but all this report does is stir up envy and animosity of defined benefit pension plans, which are not just good for workers, but good for the economy,” Dorman said.
He said instead of limiting defined benefit plans to state employees the state should look at opening up the retirement plan to everyone in the state.
Legislation , which would have created a commission to look at setting up a retirement plan for everyone in the state, passed the House 75-61, but never made it out of the Senate before the General Assembly adjourned May 9.