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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Gimme Some Truth

A number of readers have inquired about the same issue I've been trying to clarify since late 2005. It concerns what happens after the actuarial recovery plan starts and the member is eligible for the next COLA and thereafter. It is easier to explain with an illustration than simple words. I combine both to show you the areas of where a fair number of us have been devoting some free "worry" time.

Suppose Adams (a made-up name) owes PERS $10000 as of July 1, 2007 after all COLAs have been applied to the "revised" benefit and used to offset any "overpayments". On that date, PERS implements the "recovery plan" and begins collecting from Adams' monthly check. Further suppose that Adams' revised benefit is, for simplicity, $4000 per month (Option 1, but it doesn't matter) with an actuarial reduction of $40 per month. So, effective July 1, 2007 (with the August 1, 2007 payment), Adams receives a monthly benefit check for a gross amount of $4000 minus the repayment amount of $40 and the net gross (I like that term) is a monthly benefit gross $3960 (less any normal taxes) [This is another interesting area. Does the actuarial reduction come out pre-tax or post-tax?]. Adams continues to receive this benefit until until July 1, 2008, at which time he will be due another 2% cost of living increase. It's right here where questions start to arise and where PERS members could be in for a rude surprise. I have heard two completely different (and utterly contradictory) explanations of what happens next. One makes a certain degree of sense, but is inconsistent with an assumption outlined in the recovery tables, while the other is consistent with the tables, but against the statutes as I understand them.

So: Year 2, 7/1/2008 we have a 2% cola. The methodology PERS has published clearly states that the actuarial recovery amount assumes a 2% COLA (to the repayment amount) but the methodology outlined in the Powerpoint Craig Stroud showed to the Board implies a level payback amount over a member (beneficiary) lifetime.

Interpretation 1: 2008 benefit = 2007 gross benefit ($4000 * 1.02) = $4080
minus actuarial recovery factor $40, leaving a net gross benefit of $4040

Version 2: 2008 benefit = 2007 net gross benefit ($3960 *1.02) = $4039.20 - actuarial recovery factor $40, leaving a net gross benefit of $3999.20

or

Version 3: 2008 = 2007 gross benefit ($4000 * 1.02) = $4080 minus the actuarial recovery factor ($40 * 1.02) = $40.80, resulting in a net gross benefit of $4039.20.

Version 1 is implied by the explanations I've heard; version 2 relates to a discussion I heard at a PERS Board meeting, and explanation 3 derives from reading the footnotes to the actuarial recovery factors but flatly contradicts the assurances I and others have received that the repayment amount would remain flat. As you can see, version 2 is significantly different than version 1 and is, I believe, illegal (it is not supported by statute or by the Strunk ruling). Version 3 is what a literal interpretation of the recovery table footnotes would mean, but is inconsistent with the argument that the recovery amount is "flat" over an individual's lifetime. One might argue that Version 1 and Version 3 give close results, which is true in this case. But, imagine living 25 or 30 years and each year having the repayment amount grow by 2%. While the relative difference between the net gross benefit and the repayment amount remain the same, the repayment amount does not remain flat, for more than a year. We've all be led, I believe, to think that PERS plans to implement version 1. It is the expectation we've had from everything PERS has said. While none of us is rooting for PERS to win the various legal battles ongoing, if PERS begins recovery, we expect to see Version 1 be the way this happens. But, I don't know for sure anymore and I'm hoping that PERS will settle this matter for me once and for all. We've had enough surprises that I have no patience or tolerance for any more.

P.S. The calculator tests are going well. Some minor bugs have been located and fixed and I'm about to embark on correcting a thinking error on my part (fortunately this isn't computational and should have affected none of the testers' results). The program works well on Windows, but needs some clearer instructions to run on the Mac. I'm hoping that I can get all the fixes and cosmetic changes done this coming week and get a version for everyone to play with by the end of this week or early the following week. I'll announce it in a blog entry and the link to the left will be replaced with an updated link to the new program. Watch carefully.

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