Pension funding gap widens

The gap between what state governments have promised employees in pension benefits and the funding to meet those obligations widened to $914 billion at the end of 2012, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts. When promises by local governments were factored in, the total pension debt was over $1 trillion.

In spite of strong investment returns, the funding gap for state plans grew 14 percent or by $157 billion from 2010 to 2012.

Many states have enacted pension reform since the financial crisis hit, and if pension plans meet their investment return targets and government sponsors make recommended contributions to their retirement systems, states can expect to see funding levels rise in future years, Pew found. But investment returns are uncertain and policymakers in many states fell short of paying for pension debt in 2012, an aggregate shortfall of $20 billion. Only 14 states have consistently made at least 95 percent of the full actuarial required contributions for their pension plans from 2010 through 2012. The remaining 36 states fell short in at least one year.

Illinois had the lowest funded ratio of any state at 40 percent in 2012, down from 43 percent in 2011 and 45 percent in 2010. It had a liability of $158.6 million. Connecticut had a funded ratio of 49 percent in 2012, down from 55 percent in 2011. The state had a liability of $48.2 million even though it made 100 percent of its actuarial required contribution in 2012.

Wisconsin’s public pensions were 100 percent funded in 2012, 2011 and 2010. Washington and North Carolina were both funded at 95 percent, followed by South Dakota at 93 percent, Tennessee at 92 percent and Oregon at 91 percent.

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