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Friday, October 31, 2008
The Ghost of Tom Joad
The good news is that PERS is better prepared to weather the crisis than most public employee retirement funds across the country. The OIC has done a remarkable job in keeping the fund in the black and I have confidence that once the current crisis settles down, they will be able to place funds where they can once again return in excess of the assumed rate.
In keeping with the Tom Joad theme, I do think that there will be pressure on PERS to *reduce* the actuarially assumed interest rate (currently at 8%). Right now, this is tough to do because the rate is linked to the construction of the mortality tables, linked to the payouts at retirement, and intimately bound to the rates charged to employers. Any reduction in the assumed rate would not only negatively impact members, it would also raise the employer contribution levels. At a time of shrinking budgets, the employers would protest vigorously any proposal to change the "guarantee". Nevertheless, I think a change is inevitable in the current climate and it would not surprise me to see either next year's legislature or the current actuary (Mercer) propose that PERS do just that.
The second Tom Joad theme is that I rather doubt any proposal constructed by OPRI to give current PERS retirees an ad hoc rate increase will get through the Legislature. While the purchasing power of all PERS retirees has declined, especially that of long-time retirees, the fund simply doesn't have the resources to pay such increases. Moreover, since COLA increases and ad hoc increases come directly from employer contributions or from earnings on the Benefits-in-Force reserve (currently negative), the enthusiasm for digging deeper into budgets isn't there.
Finally, the $13 billion loss in the PERS Fund does *not* include the month of October, which has been the worst in recorded history. If there were any residual belief that any of the above would or wouldn't happen, October should just about erase that.
Trick, no Treat, Mr. Joad.