Public pensions in North Carolina

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North Carolina public pensions
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Pension System
Number of pension systems 7
State pension systems: Teachers' and State Employees' Retirement System
Consolidated Judicial Retirement System
Legislative Retirement System
Firemen's and Rescue Squad Workers' Pension Fund
North Carolina National Guard Pension Fund
Registers of Deeds' Supplemental Pension Fund
Local Governmental Employees' Retirement System
System type: Defined benefit plan
Pension Health (2011)[1]
Fund Value: $78,403,200,000
Estimated liabilities: $82,300,428,000
Unfunded liabilities : $3,897,228,000
Percent funded: 95.26%
Percent funded change: Decrease.svg1.02%[2]
Percent funded rank: 2[3]
Pension Fund Members (2011)
Total Members: 886,010
Active Members: 485,681
Other Members: 400,329
Other State Pension Information
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North Carolina public pensions are the state mechanism by which state and many local government employees in North Carolina receive retirement benefits. The state administers seven defined benefit public employee retirement systems:[4]
  • Teachers' and State Employees' Retirement System
  • Consolidated Judicial Retirement System
  • Legislative Retirement System
  • Firemen's and Rescue Squad Workers' Pension Fund
  • National Guard Pension Fund
  • Registers of Deeds' Supplemental Pension Fund
  • Local Government Employees' Retirement System

According to the United States Census Bureau, the state has two locally-administered pension systems.[5]

A 2012 report from the Pew Center on the States noted that North Carolina's pension system was funded at 96 percent at the close of fiscal year 2010, well above the 80 precent funding level experts recommend. Consequently, Pew designated the state's pension system as a "solid performer."[6]

The funding ratio for the state's pension system decreased from 104.47 percent in fiscal year 2006 to 95.26 percent in fiscal year 2011, a 9.21 percent drop. Likewise, unfunded liabilities increased from a nearly $3 billion surplus in fiscal year 2006 to more than $3.8 billion in fiscal year 2011.

Features

Pension plans

In 2011, according to the state's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, North Carolina had a total of 485,681 active members in its defined benefit plans.[4] Our membership figures divide plan participants into two broad categories: active and other. Active members are current employees contributing to the pension system. Other members include retirees, beneficiaries and other inactive plan participants (usually terminated employees entitled to benefits but not yet receiving them).[7]

The following data was collected from the state's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The "percentage funded" is calculated by taking the current value of the fund and dividing by the estimated amount of total liabilities. The assumed rate of return used to calculate fund value varied by system in 2011 (see "Rate of return" below for more information). The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Pew Research Centers cite a percent funded ratio of 80 percent as the minimum threshold for a healthy fund, though the American Academy of Actuaries suggests that all pension systems "have a strategy in place to attain or maintain a funded status of 100 percent or greater."[8][9] The column labeled "SBS figure" refers to a market liability calculation of the fund by the nonprofit organization State Budget Solutions. This analysis uses a rate of return of 3.225 percent, which is based upon the 15-year Treasury bond yield. The organization calls this a "risk-free" rate of return that would make it easier for states to achieve their pension funding requirements in the future. Since 2006, all private sector corporate pension plans have incorporated market costs into their funding schemes.[10]

Basic Pension Plan Information -- North Carolina*[4]
Plans Current value Percentage funded Unfunded liabilities Membership
State figure SBS figure[11] State figure SBS figure[11]
Teachers' and State Employees' $58,125,011,000 94.0% N/A[12] $3,721,686,000 N/A[12] 317,906 active members
Consolidated Judicial $460,647,000 89.9% $51,996,000 566 active members
Legislative $29,468,000 124.0% $(5,711,000) 170 active members
Firemen's and Rescue Squad Workers' $327,984,000 83.7% $63,853,000 39,734 active members
National Guard $91,108,000 70.4% $38,392,000 5,567 active members
Registers of Deeds' $42,623,000 192.1% $(20,429,000) 100 active members
Local Governmental Employees' $19,326,359,000 99.8% $47,441,000 121,638 active members
TOTALS $78,403,200,000 95.26% 54% $3,897,228,000 $67,033,140,000 485,681 active members
*The most recent valuations for these plans were conducted as of December 31, 2011. The most recent valuation for the Firemen's and Rescue Squad Workers' Retirement System is dated June 30, 2011.

Annual Required Contribution

Annual Required Contributions (ARC) are calculated annually and are a sum of two different costs. The first component is the "normal cost," or what the employer owes to the system in order to support the liabilities gained in the previous year of service. The second component is an additional payment in order to make up for previous liabilities that have not yet been paid for. According to a report by the Pew Center on the States, in 2010 North Carolina paid 100 percent of its annual required contribution.[6][13]

On June 25, 2012, the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) approved a plan to reform the accounting rules for state and local pension funds. These revised standards were set to take effect in fiscal years 2013 and 2014.[14] As a result, ARCs were removed as a reporting requirement. Instead, plan administrators and accountants will use an actuarially determined contribution or a statutory contribution for reporting purposes.[15]

ARC historical data*[4]
Fiscal year Teachers' and State Employees' Consolidated Judicial Firemen's and Rescue Squad Workers
Annual Required Contribution (ARC) Percentage contributed Annual Required Contribution (ARC) Percentage contributed Annual Required Contribution (ARC) Percentage contributed
2012 $988,418,000 100% $17,204,000 100% $14,389,000 100%
2011 $902,661,000 73% $13,082,000 78% $12,243,000 83%
2010 $483,205,000 100% $10,248,000 100% $10,074,000 100%
2009 $472,374,000 100% $8,373,000 106% $9,757,000 100%
2008 $406,576,000 99% $8,158,000 104% $8,734,000 100%
ARC historical data*[4]
Fiscal year National Guard' Local Governmental Employees'
Annual Required Contribution (ARC) Percentage contributed Annual Required Contribution (ARC) Percentage contributed
2012 $6,075,000 115% $372,105,000 100%
2011 $5,719,000 122% $341,157,000 100%
2010 $5,682,000 123% $262,591,000 100%
2009 $6,248,000 94% $265,690,000 100%
2008 $6,232,000 112% $246,004,000 100%

Historical funding levels

Historical pension plan data - all systems[4]
Year Value of assets Accrued liability Unfunded liability Funded ratio
2006 $68,808,403,000 $65,862,247,000 $(2,946,156,000) 104.47%
2007 $72,952,274,000 $70,573,970,000 $(2,378,304,000) 103.37%
2008 $73,124,299,000 $73,627,879,000 $503,580,000 99.32%
2009 $74,447,112,000 $76,976,542,000 $2,845,127,000 96.71%
2010 $76,599,104,000 $79,558,260,000 $2,959,156,000 96.28%
Change from 2006-2010 $7,790,701,000 $13,696,013,000 $5,905,312,000 -8.19%

Rate of return

Most of the state's retirement systems presume a 7.25 percent return rate on their pension investments. The Registers of Deeds' Supplemental Pension Fund presumes a 5.75 percent return rate on its investments.[4]

Analysis

Percent Funded Status of Pension Plans
in the 50 States as of November 2013
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Note: The data in this map was compiled from state CAFR reports and Actuarial Valuation documents. Figures reflect a combination of all of the state pension plans.
Funded Ratio of State Public Pension Plans as compiled by State Budget Solutions

According to a 2012 analysis by the Pew Center for the States, most state pension plans assume an 8 percent rate of return on investments.[16] Critics assert that this assumption is unrealistic, citing changing market conditions and significantly lower investment returns across the board over the past several years.[17] When states lower the rate of return in an effort to accurately predict investment earnings, it increases the current plan liabilities, thereby lowering the percent funded ratio and causing the ARC to increase. This is because future plan liabilities are discounted based on the rate of return, so smaller expected investment returns result in larger actuarially accrued liabilities.[18] For example, on September 21, 2012, the Illinois Teachers Retirement System voted to lower its rate of return from 8.5 percent to 8.0 percent. This change increased the state's fiscal year 2014 ARC from $3.07 billion to $3.36 billion.[19] Similarly, when California's CalPERS reduced its projected annual rate of return from 7.75 percent to 7.5 percent in March 2012, it cost the state an additional $303 million for fiscal year 2013.[20]

The 2008 financial crisis had a devastating effect on pension plans nationwide and has resulted in slower economic growth and increased market volatility. In light of this, some market strategists find the 8 percent assumption to be overly ambitious. Stanford University Finance Professor Joshua Rauh stated that using past investment performance in this economic climate was "dangerously optimistic."[21] Advocates for a lower assumed rate of return argue that the standard assumptions could cause pension fund managers to engage in more risky investments and imprudent stewardship of public funds. Further, if pension plans were using more conservative assumptions, such as the 3 or 4 percent assumed rate of return used in the private sector, and the plans grew more quickly than expected, the fund would have a surplus and smaller future ARCs, which would be preferable to using optimistic assumptions and potentially being caught with larger-than-expected deficits.[22][23][24][25][26]

On the other hand, traditional public pension plan advocates argue that the dip observed in recent years is not sufficient proof of a long-term, downward trend in investment returns. According to Chris Hoene, executive director at the California Budget Project, "The problem with [the market rate] argument is there isn’t significant evidence other than the short term blip during the economic crisis that there’s been that shift. It’s a speculative argument coming out of a very deep recession."[21]

The National Association of State Retirement Administrators compiled data on the median annualized rate of return for public pensions for the 1-, 3-, 5-, 10-, 20-, and 25-year periods ending in 2013. While the median annualized rate of return failed to meet the 8 percent assumption that most public pensions assume over the 5- and 10-year periods, it was just shy (7.9 percent) over the 20-year period, and it exceeded 8 percent for the 1-, 3-, and 25-year periods. It is important to note that the NASRA data is reporting the median returns, indicating that even though median annualized returns exceeded 8 percent in the 25-year period, the investment portfolios for half of the examined public pension funds failed to meet an 8 percent assumed rate of return.[27]

In September 2013, the nonprofit organization State Budget Solutions published an analysis of state pension funding levels. In its calculations, State Budget Solutions used a 3.2 percent rate of return, the 15-year Treasury bond yield as of August 21, 2013, to discount plan liabilities.

The research found that, all states combined, state public employee pension plans have only 39 percent of the assets they need to cover their promised payments—a $4.1 trillion gap. According to the report, North Carolina's public pension plans were 54% funded, making it the 2nd most funded state.[28]

Moody's report on adjusted pension liabilities

On June 27, 2013, Moody's Investor Service released its report on adjusted pension liabilities in the states. The Moody's report ranked states "based on ratios measuring the size of their adjusted net pension liabilities (ANPL) relative to several measures of economic capacity." In its calculations of net pension liabilities, Moody's employed market-determined discount rates (5.54 percent for North Carolina) instead of the state-reported assumed rates of return (7.25 percent for North Carolina as of December 31, 2010).[29]

The report's authors found that adjusted net pension liabilities varied dramatically from state to state, from 6.8 percent (Nebraska) to 241 percent (Illinois) of governmental revenues in fiscal year 2011.[29]

The adjusted net pension liability for North Carolina in fiscal year 2011 was ranked the 27th highest in the nation.[29] The following table presents key state-specific findings from the Moody's report, as well as the state's national rank with respect to each indicator.

Adjusted net pension liabilities (ANPL) relative to key economic indicators - North Carolina
Governmental revenue* Personal income State GDP Per capita
State findings 18.3% 2.1% 1.7% $775
National ranking 45th 44th 46th 45th
*Moody's uses governmental revenues as reported in each state's consolidated annual financial reports; this includes not only state-generated revenue, but federal funds, as well.[29]

Reforms

Enacted reforms

2013

A number of bills relating to the administration of the state's pension systems were passed in 2013, but none included major structural reforms.[30]

Local public pensions

See also: Local government public pensions

According to the United States Census Bureau, the state has two locally-administered pension systems.[5]

Transparency

See also: Public pension disclosure and Governmental Accounting Standards Board
  • The state treasurer's website does not appear to publish comprehensive annual financial reports for each of the state's pension funds. Names of recipients are not disclosed, nor are amounts disbursed to recipients.
  • The state treasurer is the sole fiduciary of the state's pension plans.[31]
  • Former Treasurer Richard Moore denied demanding campaign contributions from money managers as a cost of doing business with the pension funds he oversaw for the state while in office. “I'm not saying I never took any money from the industry, which we always fully reported,” Moore said. “But there was no pay to play. I followed every law and every rule here in North Carolina.”[31]

Recent news

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All stories may not be relevant to this page due to the nature of the search engine.

North Carolina Public Pensions News Feed

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See also

External links

References

  1. Figures below are compiled by adding up all state pension plans
  2. This figure is derived by calculating the percent difference between the current year's funding level and the system's percent funded from the prior year.
  3. Rank is relative to the 50 state pension programs. "1" refers to the healthiest pension plan while "50" would be the least well-funded plan.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 North Carolina "Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2012," accessed November 18, 2013
  5. 5.0 5.1 United States Census Bureau "Public Employee Retirement Systems State- and Locally-Administered Pensions Summary Report: 2010," April 30, 2012
  6. 6.0 6.1 Pew Center on the States "Widening Gap Update: North Carolina," June 18, 2012
  7. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development "Pensions Glossary," accessed November 27, 2013
  8. United States Government Accountability Office Report to the Committee on Finance, U.S. Senate "State and Local Government Retiree Benefits: Current Status of Benefit Structures, Protections, and Fiscal Outlook for Funding Future Costs," September 2007. Accessed October 23, 2013
  9. American Academy of Actuaries "Issue Brief: The 80% Pension Funding Standard Myth," July 2012. Accessed October 23, 2013
  10. Governing Magazine " Is There a Plot Against Pensions?" October 14, 2013
  11. 11.0 11.1 State Budget Solutions, "Promises Made, Promises Broken - The Betrayal of Pensioners and Taxpayers," accessed September 20, 2013
  12. 12.0 12.1 Analysis only available for system totals and not individual funds.
  13. Government Accounting Standards Board "Annual Required Contribution (ARC)," accessed October 17, 2013
  14. Reuters "Little-known U.S. board stokes hot pension debate," July 10, 2012
  15. State Budget Solutions "GASB's ineffective public pension reporting standards set to take effect," June 5, 2013
  16. "The Widening Gap Update,” Pew Center on the States, accessed October 17, 2013
  17. The New York Times "Public Pensions Faulted for Bets on Rosy Returns," May 27, 2012
  18. Benefits Magazine "Public Pension Funding 101: Key Terms and Concepts," April 2013. accessed October 23, 2013
  19. Crain's Chicago Business "State teachers pension board lowers expected rate of return," September 21, 2013. accessed October 23, 2013
  20. Huffington Post "California Pension Funds Expect Lower Investment Return," March 14, 2012. accessed October 23, 2013
  21. 21.0 21.1 Governing "Expert: Governments Are Masking Their Pension Liabilities ," October 25, 2013. accessed October 25, 2013
  22. The Washington Post "Kansas’s pension funding gap just grew by $1 billion," September 6, 2013. accessed October 25, 2013
  23. Topeka Capital-Journal "KPERS' unfunded liability rises to $10.2B," September 4, 2013. accessed October 25, 2013
  24. Wall Street Journal "Pensions Wrestle With Return Rates," October 10, 2011. accessed October 23, 2013
  25. The Courant "Promising Too Much On Public Pensions," August 10, 2012. accessed October 23, 2013
  26. Business Wire "NCPERS 2013 Survey: Public Pension Plans Report Increasing Confidence, Lower Costs, Growing Returns," October 22, 2013. accessed October 25, 2013
  27. National Association of State Retirement Administrators "Issue Brief: Public Pension Plan Investment Return Assumptions," October 2013. accessed October 23, 2013
  28. State Budget Solutions, "Promises Made, Promises Broken - The Betrayal of Pensioners and Taxpayers," accessed September 20, 2013
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 Moody's Investor Service "Adjusted Pension Liability Medians for US States," June 27, 2013
  30. National Conference of State Legislatures "Pensions and Retirement State Legislation Database - North Carolina 2013," accessed November 18, 2013
  31. 31.0 31.1 Pensions and Investments Online "N.C.'s Moore back on the hot seat," July 26, 2010