By Frank Keegan | State Budget Solutions
Push past the spin. Most public workers covered by defined benefit pension plans — and taxpayers stuck with the tab — don’t have to wait years to find out what’s happening to their money. They can get quarterly reports from the Top 100 funds representing 89.4 percent of “financial activity.”
Those funds, listed here, send quarterly reports to the U.S. Census Bureau to compile “…national summary data on the revenues, expenditures, and composition of assets of the largest defined benefit public employee retirement systems for state and local governments.”
National data are available at: http://www.census.gov/govs/qpr/index.html.
In his letter to pension administrators, Census Director Robert Groves points out, “We do not intend to publish any data relating to specific systems reported in this voluntary survey; however, the information you provide will be subject to all provisions of federal information disclosure law.”
That means this public information is open to all. Go ask for it.
Request all of your pension plans’ U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics & Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau Form F10, OMB No. 0607-0143 from 2007 through the first quarter of this year.
If officials at any pension system on the list try to tell you they don’t have it, or you can’t have it, tell them nicely that they lie. Then ask why.
Be sure to explain that the form they filed is readily available from Census, which is where you will go if they continue to illegally withhold it.
Why is it so important?
It’s important, because public pension funds are bleeding out so fast, that waiting for official annual reports will be fatal.
It’s important, because officials put a truly Orwellian spin on official data when they finally make annual reports. They highlight any quarterly earnings or value gains over the previous quarter.
What matters is how they performed compared with the same quarter the previous year. You can look at Cash and Security Holdings, Earnings on Investments, Contributions and Payments, and Percent Distribution of the Cash and Security Holdings.
Unfortunately, you have to dig a lot deeper into public pension investments to find out exactly how much fees and commissions got skimmed off specific investments, and who benefited, because those numbers are hidden. But they are open public records.
Ask for them. If denied, again ask why.
In 2011, public pensions fell further behind what they need to pay pension benefits over the coming decades without massive service cuts and tax increases.
According to analysis of the latest comprehensive full-year data available by economist Andrew Biggs, the total shortfall as of 2011 rose to $4.6 trillion.
Pension fund investments fell behind again in the first quarter of this year.
Many — if not all funds — have fallen so far behind they never can catch up again.
Reforms imposed by 43 states so far will have no significant impact on rising pension costs for decades, even if investments perform beyond any level in history.
If investments do not, or there is another market crash anytime over the next three decades, taxpayers will be on the hook for trillions of dollars, and some current public workers and retirees could lose benefits.
That is the conclusion of recent studies by the Government Accountability Office, the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank, Harvard Kennedy School’s Mossavar-Rhamanni Center, and economists from Notre Dame and Maastricht universities.
Taxpayers and public workers must demand drastic reform now.
The best way to start is by asking for the latest open public records about your pension fund’s performance.
Frank Keegan is editor of Statebudgetsolutions.org a project of sunshinereview.org. The State Budget Solutions Project is non-partisan, positive, pro-reform, proactive and anchored in fundamental-systemic solutions. The goal is to successfully engage political journalists/bloggers, state officials and opinion leaders in a new way of thinking about state government and budgets, fundamental reforms, transparency and accountability.