A recent report determined that just 17 states have funded more than 80 percent of their projected pension liability, but Connecticut still holds the distinction of having one of the highest unfunded pension liabilities in the nation.
The most recent actuarial valuation of the pension funds showed that as of June 30, 2012, the State Employees’ Retirement System was funded at 42.3 percent and the Teachers’ Retirement Fund was funded at 55.24 percent.
That means the State Employees’ Retirement System had $9.7 billion worth of assets, which is enough to cover 42.3 percent of the $23 billion in liabilities. The Teachers’ Retirement Fund did slightly better because in 2008 the General Assembly agreed to put $2 billion on the state credit card to help make payments to the fund. That means the teachers’ fund had $13.7 billion in assets, which is enough to cover 55.24 percent of its $24.9 billion in liabilities. Experts say an 80 percent funding level is considered healthy.
The next actuarial valuation of Connecticut’s funds isn’t expected to be completed until after the November 2014 election, which isn’t unusual because the valuation of the pension funds is conducted every other year.
The good news for the state is in the rebounding investment market.
The anticipated annual rate of return for the State Employees’ Retirement System was recently lowered to 8 percent and the rate of return for the Teachers’ Retirement Fund is 8.5 percent, but the two funds, which are combined with four other small funds, returned 11.49 percent.
Connecticut Treasurer Denise Nappier attributed the high rate of return to the strong equity gains with domestic and international developed markets returning a preliminary 21.2 and 22.6 percent. Those investments helped add $2.8 billion of market value to the pension assets. The fund finished the year ending June 30, 2013, at $25.9 billion, up from $24 billion the previous year — an increase of $1.9 billion.
Last year, the pension plans took a dive ending with a negative 0.9 percent rate of return. During fiscal year 2010, Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Fund assets declined from $25.5 billion to $24 billion. So the fund has grown grown past where it was before it lost value 2010.
But investments aside, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration has been making an effort to shore up the pension funds after decades of neglect by two Republican administrations, contributing money beyond the actuarially required contribution to fully fund it by 2032.
As recently as 2010, former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration got the labor unions to agree to delay a $100 million pension payment. In the late 1990s, former Gov. John G. Rowland’s administration made smaller annual payments to the pension fund. Those shortfalls led to what could be described as a balloon mortgage payment that’s come due under the Malloy administration.
Going forward, this means the state will have to contribute more and more money to its pension fund, which means there’s less funding for state programs. It’s a reality that Rell’s administration acknowledged when it handed off the baton to the Malloy administration in 2010.
Earlier this year, Malloy tried to exempt the pension payments from the spending cap. The General Assembly didn’t go along with the idea of exempting any spending from the cap, but it decided to “net appropriate” the extra Medicaid money it receives from the federal government to implement the Affordable Care Act.
The 2014-15 budget approved two months ago by the General Assembly effectively removes about $2.9 billion in 2014 and $3.5 billion in 2015 out from under the cap.
But the Malloy administration isn’t worried the new accounting method will impact its ability to continue to make the necessary pension contributions, while continuing to fund necessary government programs.
“Our current budget is balanced and under the spending cap,” Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman, said Monday.
Later this week Connecticut lawmakers in attendance at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Atlanta will be treated to several panel discussions on the topic.