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Friday, October 21, 2005

The Squid Jigging Ground

I attended part of today's PERS Board meeting. (I confess that it was getting so tedious and boring that I left after about 105 minutes when it was apparent that there was still one long and boring report to go). There weren't too many surprises to report. Paul Cleary handed out a new document called "PERS by the numbers", which was intended to pull together all the disparate statistics PERS has given out over the years. It is a really useful document that PERS intends to post on its web site after the State finishes its maintenance early next week. Many of the facts will surprise people and will, hopefully, disabuse some of the system critics of ideas they have that retirees are getting fat and rich. The statistics simply don't bear that conclusion out. (I have asked for my own electronic copy, but haven't received one yet).

It is clear that the Strunk/Eugene implementation project will take a long time. The first order of business is to get 2004 Member Statements completed for still-active and inactive members. That will involve recrediting for 1999, adjusting 2003 and then crediting 2004. The goal is to have those statements out by the end of January 2006. To follow will be the 2005 member annual statements at close to the usual time in 2006 (mid May). The retiree piece is expected to consume the lion's share of time and resources. While the short-term deadline is April 1, 2006, it is obvious from comments and observations that this is expected to be a multi-YEAR project (it might have been Paul Cleary who remarked, somewhat off-the-cuff, that it would probably be 2008 before they'd be able to 'close the books' on the Strunk/Eugene implementation). One new fact emerged today. In terms of the actuarial reduction method, Craig Stroud confirmed that if the member took an option that involved joint survivorship (2, 2A, 3, 3A), the actuarial reduction *would* be based on joint life expectancies IF both parties were still alive. Otherwise, the reduction would be based on single life expectancy of the surviving recipient. The planning group and the Board are still open to alternative payment options and heard again today from someone advocating that PERS agree to an installment plan that allowed the member to repay the exact amount owed in something other than a lump sum. The Board was receptive to the idea, but there was no committment made to implementing such a method. The Strunk/Eugene implementation plan is still short on many details and it is expected that it will continue to evolve for 3 more months (and 3 more meetings) before a final plan emerges.

There was a lengthy and tedious discussion over the 2004 crediting order, which has never been finalized. PERS Staff asked for finality today so that the Strunk/Eugene implementation could proceed. As I was leaving, virtually everything about 2004 had been settled except for the matter of whether or not to fund the Capital Preservation Reserve (henceforth CPR). The Board struggled with the concept of taking money from Tier 2 members to put into the CPR. Staff had recommended that the CPR be funded at 0% for 2004; the Board wanted something more than 0% and something less than 7.5%. The discussion centered on 0.75%, but the real debate was whether Tier 2 members should have their earnings diverted to the CPR when there was no clear plan to repay Tier 2 members in down markets. Greg Hartman argued against putting money in the CPR, PERS Staff discouraged putting 2004 money into the CPR, Tom Grimsley wanted 0% to go into the CPR, while other Board members wanted something more than 0% to go in. Since this discussion seemed to be going nowhere quickly, I decided to leave. The main message is that Tier 2 members have been losing earnings to the CPR since 2003, even though they're supposed to "earn what they earn". That's another discussion for another time.

One other final note. Marsha Chapman, one of the two local Mercer actuaries assigned to PERS, has already resigned to "pursue other opportunities".

If I get a copy of the "PERS By the Numbers" presentation in electronic form, I'll post it here. Have a good weekend.

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