The Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement (LCPR) on Wed., Sept. 20, heard reports from the pension fund executive directors on the financial impact of the recent 15.1 percent investment return and the failure to enact a pension bill during the 2017 session. The commission also heard from the State Economist Laura Kalambokidis and State Board of Investment (SBI) Director Mansco Perry regarding national economic forecasts and the investment return assumption.

MSRS Executive Director Erin Leonard reported that the MSRS General Plan’s estimated funded ratio for FY17 is 81.5 percent (assuming a 7.5 percent investment return) and its estimated deficiency is 4.3 percent of pay. That plan’s funded ratio is projected to decline to 62.6 percent in 30 years if no action is taken to address its deficiency. Had the 2017 pension bill been enacted, the MSRS plan would have a slight sufficiency of 0.35 percent of pay and would have been projected to exceed 100 percent funded by 2047.

PERA Executive Director Doug Anderson reported that the PERA General Plan’s estimated funded ratio for FY17 is 76 percent (assuming a 7.5 percent investment return) and the plan has a slight sufficiency of 0.2 percent of pay if measured using a 30-year amortization period. That plan’s funded ratio is projected to steadily increase to 95 percent in 30 years. Had the 2017 pension bill been enacted, the PERA plan would have a sufficiency of 1.3 percent of pay and would have been projected to attain 117 percent funded by 2047. Anderson fielded questions regarding the recent Bloomberg article which focused the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) accounting numbers. Anderson cautioned the LCPR that the GASB numbers are likely to be very volatile year to year and that they reflect only a snapshot in time rather than the long-term financial status of the plan.

TRA Executive Director Jay Stoffel reported that TRA’s estimated funded ratio for FY17 is 69.1 percent (assuming a 7.5 percent investment return) and its estimated deficiency is 8.53 percent of pay. TRA’s funded ratio is projected to decline to 50 percent in 30 years if no action is taken to address its deficiency. Had the 2017 pension bill been enacted, the plan would have a deficiency of 0.74 percent of pay and would have been projected to attain 95 percent funded by 2047. During discussion of TRA, Rep. Tim O’Driscoll commented that TRA did not come to the table, as other plans did, with sufficient benefit reductions and that TRA was asking for more funding than the other plans. Sen. Julie Rosen, commission chair, added that she appreciated Sen. Dan Schoen’s amendment to put TRA’s provisions back into the bill after they had been removed in committee. Rosen characterized the Schoen amendment as a good faith effort, but commented that it was unfortunately designed to pay for school district costs at a later time. Rosen also said that TRA had been resistant to accepting the 7.5 percent return assumption and stressed that she wanted to achieve that change. Stoffel explained that TRA is asking its actuary to perform a mini-experience study focused on economic assumption to update the actuary’s recommendations. The study is due in November.

SPTRFA Executive Director Jill Schurtz reported that the St. Paul teacher plan’s estimated funded ratio for FY17 as 60 percent (assuming a 7.5 percent investment return and taking into account mortality improvements) and its estimated deficiency is 4.2 percent of pay. That plan’s funded ratio is projected to decline to 52 percent in 30 years if no action is taken. Had the 2017 pension bill been enacted, SPTRFA would have a sufficiency of 0.9 percent of pay and would have been projected to attain 99 percent funded by 2047.

State Economist Laura Kalambokidis warned that due to an aging population, slow labor force growth and ongoing federal fiscal risks, the U.S. economy is expected to have slower than expected economic growth and lower than expected investment returns. She indicated that past performance of the financial markets does not guarantee the same future results. Kalambokidis advised LCPR to recognize that future investment returns may be lower and more uncertain than past returns. She said that getting the discount rate wrong has consequences: setting it too low can result in overstating liabilities and incurring unnecessary costs today while setting it too high will understand liabilities and push costs to future generations.

SBI Executive Director Mansco Perry provided an overview of how SBI’s assets are managed and what SBI returns have been over short- and long-term periods. He showed that SBI return performance ranks in the upper 20 percent of funds. With respect to the investment return assumption, he stated that once the LCPR changes the assumption, he recommends that it stay with that assumption for a minimum of five years because investment forecasts are highly uncertain and do not lend themselves to such precision.

The commission plans to meet again on Oct. 10 or 11.