PENSIONS HELP COMMUNITIES
As employers search for ways to recruit and retain employees in a competitive labor market, expert research shows that pension plans and retirement savings plans are an essential part of the solution.
The Montana Legislature recently heard testimony about how investing in and strengthening our state pensions can contribute to workforce development. Employers want to attract and retain quality employees; employees want competitive compensation; and taxpayers want public services provided in a stable, effective manner. This is truly a win-win-win for everyone.
“The primary purpose of a retirement benefit is not to generate wealth, but rather to make sure that the plan participant fundamentally has enough income to keep a roof over their head, and food on the table,” explained Keith Brainard, Research Director from NASRA, during a recent legislative hearing. All Montanans benefit when our communities can maintain consistent and high-quality public services at a reasonable cost.
During their March 24 meeting, the State Administration and Veterans Affairs (SAVA) interim committee heard from several national organizations that study public pensions across the country. The breadth of experience and knowledge was impressive, and legislators certainly received an in-depth education in various pension structures and best practices. One of the big topics: how do pensions compare with other retirement plan design options? And the results were overwhelming in their positive assessment of the benefits of a pension plan.
Dan Doonan (Executive Director, NIRS) shared research showing that pensions are a better bang for the buck. The post-retirement experience drives the cost advantage for pensions over defined contribution plans (such as a 401(k)). Dollar for dollar, a pension plan requires only half as much as would be needed to get the same benefits as a defined contribution plan.
Hank Kim, the Executive Director of NCPERS, expanded on this cost advantage. Not only are pensions more cost-effective for the pensioner, but the retirement benefits accrue in communities. For more about the economic impacts of pension benefits in your county, check out this great TRS map; MPERA benefits similarly stay in Montana as well, creating positive and sustainable economic impacts.
Brainard also pointed out that Alaska, which closed its pension plan, has now struggled to attract firefighters, police, and teachers; the situation has become so serious that they are attempting to reopen their pension plan. Study after study shows the same thing: public service workers, regardless of age, value the security of a pension retirement. In an era when recruitment and retention is a hot topic across the workforce, Montana should certainly avoid following in Alaska’s footsteps.
Overwhelmingly, the results of the discussion lauded the benefits of a strong public pension system. And Montana workers, employers, communities, and taxpayers are the beneficiaries of our pension systems, which are truly an investment in our collective economic health.
UPDATE: MONTANA PENSIONS REMAIN SOLID
The MPERA and TRS boards met in February, and at both meetings the message was clear: Montana’s pensions are stable and secure. Plan returns remain well above the goals set by the respective boards. For example, PERS has a return of 9.65% since inception (goal is currently 7.65%); TRS likewise has a 9.65% return, again well above their 7.5% goal. This is largely because our pension funds are managed by the Montana Board of Investments (BOI), who routinely present at both the MPERA and TRS boards. By pooling pension funds with other state funds, we are fortunate to be able to maximize our returns with a minimum of fees.
The hot topic right now, of course, is inflation. Where is it heading, when will it slow down, what will happen to our investment returns? Dan Villa, Executive Director of the BOI, addressed this during the recent TRS meeting. For ten years, there has been fear that because of low inflation, the systems wouldn’t be able to reach their return goals – but they consistently did. Now that we are entering a period of higher inflation, the fears have flipped: high inflation is now the boogey man that will keep the systems from their goals. So which is it – is low inflation bad, or is it high inflation we should fear? Both? The answer, happily, is neither. Our pension funds are carefully managed in well-diversified portfolios, watched over and adjusted often to maximize return while minimizing risk.
That doesn’t mean we should stop caring, monitoring, and advocating, of course. But it does mean that we can sleep well at night, knowing that our pensions are in good hands.
INTERIM COMMITTEE INFORMED THAT PENSIONS ARE HEALTHY
SAVA met for their second session of the summer and the morning was focused on our Montana pension systems. The leadership of the Teachers Retirement System (TRS), Montana Public Employees Retirement System (MPERA) and the Board of Investments (BOI) were all on hand to help inform the committee as to the structure and stability of their respective agencies.
The biggest theme to emerge was that the changes put in place in 2013 are working. Pensions function on a long timeline, and the 2013 changes are slowly but steadily improving our systems – exactly as intended by the coalition from 2013. As new hires enter the pension system and replace prior retirees, we are gradually chipping away at the unfunded liability; according to the head of BOI, we added $6.4 billion to the principal in the last decade alone. Slow and steady wins the race!
Under the terms of the study resolution (HJ 8, 2021), stakeholders have a guaranteed voice in the committee’s work. To that end, groups representing employees, employers, and taxpayers were invited to this meeting to share their thoughts. The message was universal: pensions are strong, stable, and work well for Montana. If you would like to thank the committee for their work and share how important pensions are for you and your family, then please consider writing to the committee.
Check back soon for further SAVA updates; we will continue monitoring their work on pensions closely to protect these critical benefits.
Pension Committee meets for first time
The State Administration and Veteran’s Affair Interim Committee (SAVA) met for the first time today in Helena. The committee, which has oversight of many administrative functions including the pension systems, is composed of eight members split evenly between the parties with six representatives and four senators. In a show of bicameral and bipartisan cooperation, Rep. Wendy McKamey (R) nominated Sen. Janet Ellis (D) for the chair, citing SAVA’s “gracious tradition of switching chairs.” Rep. Marta Bertoglio (R) was elected vice-chair.
One of the most popular bills of the 2021 session was House Joint Resolution 8 (HJ 8) sponsored by Rep. Frank Garner (R). HJ 8 requested that SAVA conduct an in-depth study of all Montana pension systems, with ample stakeholder and public input. The executive directors of TRS and MPERA presented today in front of the committee, citing very high returns on investments and strong financial health for their respective areas. Fingers crossed, the committee will listen to the experts and hear the message loud and clear: our pension systems are strong and stable!
The SAVA committee adjourned today without settling on a final workplan – how many days will they spend examining the pension systems, and which systems will they focus on? Who will they invite to have a seat at the table as they make decisions? What questions will they ask of the experts who they call before them to provide guidance?
While we wait on SAVA to come to a decision on how they will proceed, we can take the first step and remind them just how important pensions are to Montanans. Not only to retirees, but to active public employees – and also to their communities. Pension benefits generate a huge amount of revenue for every community in Montana, and provide a dignified and stable retirement that prevents our retired public servants from needing to take advantage of social services. Take a moment to write the committee about the value of pensions, and check back soon for more SAVA updates.
NEW RESOURCES AVAILABLE
Two new resources are available about pension economics in Montana. Key findings: pension benefits support roughly 10,000 jobs in Montana, and generate $175,000,000 in 1.4 billion in economic output. The return on investment for both taxpayers and pensioners? VERY positive.
Find out more by visiting our FAQ section.
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MT Public Employees: Pensions Help State's Economy
Montana’s public employees are touting the roles they play in communities, even after they retire. According to AARP, retirement checks from more than 23,000 public employees in Montana helped support more than $1 billion in economic output in 2019.
Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena, a retired teacher, said the money stays in communities. “The money that we get from our pensions, we put back into our local economies,” Funk explained. “So, it’s great for our state’s economy as well as for our lifestyle.”