Please don't post your comments more than once. I moderate all comments and a delay between posting and appearing is part of the drill here. I get to all comments in due time. Please don't continually repost the same comment. Only one will be posted. Also, due to the volume of email I'm getting right now, I am unable to guarantee that I will respond to all personal emails sent to my email address. I am being buried alive under an avalanche of email. Please go to the PERS Oregon Discussion (POD) Group, linked below (left) under LINKS to post your question and get a variety of answers. Thank you.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Thus, it seems that there is an appeal filed with the Oregon Court of Appeals in Arken. In Robinson, the issue is primarily whether the case is certified as a "class action." Recall that the PERS Coalition lost on all counts in Arken, but won a significant victory in Robinson. There is no doubt in my mind that the defendants in the Robinson case (PERS), will appeal Kantor's verdict, but that is on hold until and whether the Robinson plaintiffs and attorney decide to pursue the verdict as a class action.
In the meantime, the White case, which challenges the entire settlement agreement in the City of Eugene case (Lipscomb), is still occupying space in Judge Kantor's office. He decided in late September that no hearing was necessary and that he would rule on the basis of the substantial factual record before him. If Judge Kantor is true to form, it will be somewhere near the summer solstice before he issues a ruling.
So, please enjoy your holiday season. You can go back to sleep for about four or five months before any new information is likely in these various cases.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Without getting too technical, suffice it to say that the actuarial rate guarantee plays into many aspects of the PERS system. PERS has the legal authority and the fiduciary responsibility to use an assumed interest rate that is attuned to economic realities and fiscal experience. The 8% rate was established in 1989 and so it has been in force for 20 years. Prior to that the rate was lower. There is no precedent that I can find where the system *lowered* the assumed rate. Actuarial tables and their associated mortality factors, which drive the optional benefit forms PERS retirees can select from, are built from the assumed interest rate. Reduce the rates and the mortality factors will change. This will, in turn, lead to lower monthly benefits. Similarly, the Tier 1 regular account balance is driven entirely today by the assumed rate (the 8% guarantee) since no new funds have flowed to Tier 1 accounts since January 1, 2004. At a lower assumed interest rate, account balances would grow more slowly. Again, a lower account balance at retirement will lead to a lower monthly benefit and coupled with lower mortality factors, drives the monthly benefit down significantly. Finally, the employer contribution rates are driven by several factors, not the least of which is the assumed rate at which employer contributions are expected to grow. If the assumed rate is lower, employer contributions will rise because less of the anticipated growth will come from the assumption about earnings. This is the trickiest idea for most people to understand, but any careful research would demonstrate its truthfulness.
Even from the briefest introductions above it is easy to see that both PERS members and their employers have interests that are completely aligned. The coupling of the assumed interest rate makes both parties agree on the direction of the assumed interest rate.
Recently, I had an email exchange with Greg Hartman about this, while a PCC colleague had an almost identical conversation with Paul Cleary, PERS Executive Director. Both mentioned the same set of facts. First, employer rates have been set for 2009-2011 on the assumption of an 8% rate. This means that no change will be made until the next time the PERS actuary undertakes its next system valuation in 2010. That will be used for the 2011-2013 rate setting. Second, the 2009-2011 mortality tables have already been set to take effect on the first of next month. They, too, assume an 8% earnings rate. The take home message here is that none of the crucial decision-making about the assumed interest rate would make any sense until 2010 for implementation in 2011. Both Hartman and Cleary make the same point about the next system valuation. The 2009-2011 rate-setting and mortality table implementation do not take into account the dismal situation in 2008. Those losses will get recognized in the next system valuation in 2010. Since those losses bear on employer rates, there is a strong likelihood that employer rates will rise significantly resulting from the 2008 system losses. If PERS were to add to that a change in the actuarially assumed interest rate, employer rates would rise even further. It was a steep rise in employer rates that triggered the series of events that led first to the City of Eugene case, the 2003 Legislative reforms, and the string of litigation that followed. It is doubtful that anyone has the stomach for that again.
The logical conclusion from this is that, despite the pressure from outside forces to do so, it is highly unlikely that we will see a decrease in the actuarially assumed interest rate anytime in the near future. Of course, a rogue legislature might try to force the issue, but with all the forces who share a common purpose in keeping those rates where they are, it seems unlikely that the Legislature will try to overcome that resistance.
Monday, December 01, 2008
It is not really possible to pinpoint the precise point at which OPDG began its long downhill slide into irrelevancy, bickering, and petty sniping. It has been at least a year, possibly more, since there has been any spirited discussion of a significant PERS topic. Yes, there have been discussions of PERS-related matters, but the old fire simply isn't there. Earlier this year, I made the decision that I could not tolerate the level of politicization of the Board and its hostile takeover by the extreme political right. I resigned as a moderator, and after many entreaties, started my own Yahoo newsgroup that *is* devoted exclusively to PERS and retirement-related issues. Once the political candidates were known, OPDG began on the relentless path to irrelevancy. There was a constant drumbeat of anti-Obama rhetoric, and attempts to crush and intimidate any opposing viewpoint (especially those who actually supported Obama). This has not abated with Obama's election, the financial crisis, and the end of George Bush's presidency. If anything, the hostility has grown in much the same way that talk radio seems to inflate by the appearance of political opposition.
The irony of this is that OPDG's charter actually warns new members about the very things that are tearing at the fiber of OPDG. Uncivil discussions, name-calling, ad hominem arguments, censoring posts for no obvious reason, etc. The reality is that there are only now four or five regular posters and a few drive-by shooters - mostly from the political far right, and a couple who have tried to defend the more moderate or left wing of politics. The left has no chance on OPDG, because the moderation team is composed primarily of those with opposing viewpoints. In short, for those of us who are celebrating the beginning of a new era in politics, OPDG is like the polar-bear club, with waterboarding.
Because I have no desire to subject *my* readers to the abysmal and unpleasant discussions over at OPDG, I am today removing the link for OPDG from my blog, and from my newsgroup. I will no longer reference any discussion on OPDG and will, in all likelihood, completely discontinue any participation in that group. Its members will still have access to the same news as both this blog and my newsgroup (see left to PERS Oregon Discussion) are completely open, unlike OPDG.
Contrary to the belief of many, there is still plenty of PERS news to report. It won't be daily; it may not be weekly. There is a legislative session coming in about 7 weeks, and with the financial crisis still ongoing, there will be many discussions about PERS and its financial health. It would not surprise me to find that PERS benefits show up again in discussions. Whether this will result in any changes or not, remains to be seen. But you can be assured that I and many others will be watching, listening, and reporting on relevant PERS news. You can be certain to find out here and on our sister-newsgroup (PERS_Oregon_Discussion).
And to the owner of OPDG, I wish you well competing in the political world. There are many other discussion groups on the web you can compete with. But if you wish to become the FOX news archive on the web, I'm afraid that FOX news has its own archive and anyone interested in seeing the views presented on that network can go there. You would be wise to heed the advice of Manu Chao who said it best when he wrote: "Politik Kills". Your group has a substantial membership, but the question you need to ask is how many readers do you actually have. How many have tuned out because the group has lost focus and lost direction. OPDG is becoming like the legendary foo bird. If you don't know that legend, Google is your friend.