City's pension liability zooms up by $937 million

This was in the late 80's, when employers wanted to switch from a defined benefit plan to a profit sharing or 401K type plan, they usually painted a rosy picture. They would commit to profit sharing contributions which looked more attractive than the defined benefit result. One of the key points was the change in vesting from many years (10 or more), such as eliminating cliff vesting for step vesting. Instead of having to stay with a firm for five years or more to vest (the cliff), now an employee could get vesting in steps... 0 the first year, then 20, 40, 60, 80 and 100% after five years. (Our company was Pacific Pension Designs, Inc. and my partner passed away 10 years ago.) In a society that didn't stay put, or stay put in jobs, step vesting was attractive and the 401K was sold. However, after a few years, company executives would get greedy and reduce the contribution match, then they would stop contributing the the profit-sharing aspect of the plan. Now that rosy picture looked like a bait-and-switch. It was. We sent our sales people out to "sell" the new plans. "It's not that people plan to fail, they fail to plan!" Was the motto that made employees "decide" to take "their financial future into their own hands." Where there is a high turnover of employees, when an employee quits (or is pushed out) the non-vested portion of their pension is reallocated to the "remaining participants" based on a percentage of their "time of service and income." Guess who collects (makes all the money) from private pension plans, the "longest and loyal employees with the highest incomes... the owners. The owners get to deduct the expense of employee pensions, but turn around later and get to collect almost all of the pension fund because most people quit before they vest. The wealthiest clients I had were in construction, restaurants and other concerns where they used a pension play to attract employees. But most of those employees quit before they vested. So the owners got the lions share of the pension fund money. That is great for the private sector, but the public sector does not make fail-safe contributions or tests like the "one point-0 test" that makes sure the plans are within the threshold of funding and solvency required by the IRS. I don't know much about the rules with public pension plans, but I assume government plans are not as regulated as private plans. How else can public pensions be managed with so little over-sight and so much incompetence? They permit politicians to kick the can down the road while actuaries (the Gods of pension plans) are bribed to give overly positive reports on a public pensions health.
— December 27, 2016 8:11 p.m.

City's pension liability zooms up by $937 million

I was a partner in a pension plan administration firm. The only way defined benefit plans made sense were when they were established by professional groups such as doctors, dentists, lawyers and architects... and so forth. Many were "catch up plans" where the participants (top hat plans) could contribute tax-free as much as 100% of their compensation to the plan. (That is how the 1% get rich, with the massive tax deductions from defined benefit plans or even better, accumulating the "highest paid and most loyal" employee participant benefits divided as employees leave before they vest). Then on the contrary, defined benefit plans administered in publicly traded or large private companies get raided by private equity teams that gut the pension fund and throw the carcass at the PBGC to rescue. When I was in the business, custom designed pension plans were the vanguard of the industry. We spoke "tax code" and "loopholes" and made our money on amending and restating every plan we could to save a few bucks, much like re-financing in the housing market today. I witnessed the future of the middle-class retirement get gutted in the 80's after TRA '86 and ERISA. All the changes and amendments since then have always granted major tax relief to the high earners and cut-back (using the IRA and 401K) deductions allowed for the middle class. A DB professional can deduct 100% of their income to fund their retirement, but the middle class can't get to sock away more than 15%. When it come to municipal pensions, I just wonder how long the taxpayers can put up with the insanity. It's is not that compensation for some individuals is out of control, but it is certainly the bloated, unresponsive, lazy, public servant union dolts with laissez-faire attitudes devoid of commitment to service, excellence or transparency that are in numbers that should be sliced by 70% that are going to bankrupt this city.
— December 25, 2016 8:41 p.m.

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