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Author: Subject: Very interesting article...re: state retirement plans

Maximum Peach





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  posted on 3/1/2010 at 04:15 PM
This outcome should be very interesting. I was at a conference earlier in the year where some of the largest state plans were lamenting the fact that they have to tell their employees that they will not receive what they said they would receive and that they will have to work longer and take home less. Its a bitter pill obviously. I am very interested to see what this decision is. This is an anrticle from a trade rag I read at work:



A group of retirees is suing to stop recently passed legislation designed to shore up the $32.5 billion Colorado Public Employees' Retirement Association, Denver.

The lawsuit was filed in state court today on behalf of approximately 100,000 PERA members who became eligible to retire or who have retired since March 1, 1994, when annual pension increases first were guaranteed under state law.

Defendants are the state of Colorado, PERA, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, PERA board Chairman Mark J. Anderson and PERA board Vice Chairwoman Sara J. Valt.

The suit seeks class-action status and charges that the new law, which was signed by Mr. Ritter on Feb. 23, is unconstitutional because it impairs the retirees' contractual rights to receive pension benefits at the levels promised to them either when they became eligible to retire or when they actually retired.

“Both the United States and Colorado constitutions bar reductions in pension benefits once the rights to those pensions vest. And that is exactly what the legislation did here,” Stephen Pincus, one of the attorneys representing the retirees, said in a news release. Mr. Pincus is a partner at Stember Feinstein Doyle & Payne, a law firm that specializes in pension rights on behalf of retirees.

Previous state law had guaranteed PERA members annual pension benefit increases, either through a cost-of-living adjustment or a guaranteed 3.5% yearly raise in benefits paid to retirees. But because of PERA's underfunded status, the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 10-001, which eliminated the 3.5% annual increase for 2010 and reduced it to 2% beginning in 2011. The suit asks the court to rule that the recent changes are unconstitutional and to order the defendants not to implement them.

However, the lawsuit does not challenge other provisions in the PERA reform legislation, including increased contributions by PERA members and their employers and later retirement ages.

PERA's assets fell from $41.4 billion in December 2007 due to the nation's economic downturn, according to a July 2009 report to the Legislative Audit Committee. As a result, PERA faces $27.5 billion in unfunded liabilities, the report stated.

 
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Zen Peach



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  posted on 3/1/2010 at 06:52 PM
This is a problem with a lot of retirement/pension plans connected to government jobs at the state level. I think I read that almost 1/2 of the states in this country do not have these plans funded to recommended levels for meeting benefit requirements of future retirees (many of whom are becoming current retirees since a lot of states are using early retirement incentives as one method of getting their budgets under control)

 

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Maximum Peach



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  posted on 3/1/2010 at 07:16 PM
If the only problem is not getting their increase, these folks should take a look around and consider themselves lucky. I expect we'll see a lot of similar stories in the future.

 

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  posted on 3/2/2010 at 08:55 AM
Colorado in particular is an interesting case. I was actually talking to the head of the plan there and he was telling me how Colorado is the only state in the union where they cannot have a tax increase without a vote from the people. He said while that sounds great, with all of the problems California is having, Colorado’s population is exploding every time California hiccups. However, they have never had a tax increase to build new schools, repair roads, etc etc. The plan cannot invest their way out of the problem, so they have to cut COLA expenses (cost of living), stop with the increases as this article states, and other cutting measures.
 

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  posted on 3/2/2010 at 10:06 AM
I have a friend who used to be a very large union painting contractor, now he's a very small union painting contractor. He was telling me that the Painters Union invested part of their pension plan in Bernie Maddoff's scheme, and that all the members took a huge hit on their pension plans. Couple that with all the unemployment in the construction field. Big problems there.

 

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Maximum Peach



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  posted on 3/2/2010 at 10:50 AM
Allen, that is awful. I market to many of the institutional pension plans, including union plans, and it’s amazing to me that a guy like Madoff got to where he did. Most plans, and particularly union plans, rely on their consultants to do the due diligence on the managers, amongst other jobs, as they do not have the expertise nor the staff to do it themselves. Some consultants may take up to a year or two before they will even recommend a manager, but it seems some of that diligence was thrown out the window when dealing with Madoff. You should ask your buddy who the plan’s consultant is. They need to be held accountable too.
 

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  posted on 3/2/2010 at 11:04 AM
quote:
Allen, that is awful. I market to many of the institutional pension plans, including union plans, and it’s amazing to me that a guy like Madoff got to where he did. Most plans, and particularly union plans, rely on their consultants to do the due diligence on the managers, amongst other jobs, as they do not have the expertise nor the staff to do it themselves. Some consultants may take up to a year or two before they will even recommend a manager, but it seems some of that diligence was thrown out the window when dealing with Madoff. You should ask your buddy who the plan’s consultant is. They need to be held accountable too.


I'll do that, jim. He's not at all happy with the union. Unfortunately, he can't just shut his company down because he would still have to pay big bucks to the union every year. I don't really understand it all, but he regrets the day he ever became a union contractor.

 

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  posted on 3/2/2010 at 11:08 AM
While searching I found this:

quote:

Upstate N.Y. Unions among Victims of Bernard Madoff Scandal
Submitted by Carl Horowitz on Mon, 02/09/2009 - 00:00

When a professional investor renowned for his prowess manages to lose around $50 billion, it’s safe to assume his clients were as moneyed as they were naďve. And Bernard Madoff always made sure to court the top tier of investors, here and abroad. Among his trusting institutional victims were Bank Medici of Austria, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Sterling Equities, Yeshiva University, Mortimer B. Zuckerman Charitable Reminder Trust, and Royal Dutch Shell. Among prominent individuals burned were Larry King, Richard Spring, Steven Spielberg, Kevin Bacon, Henry Kaufman, Norman Braman and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Less known perhaps is that organized labor – a good part of it anyway – got taken to the cleaners, too. Benefit funds of major construction unions in upstate New York, especially in and around Syracuse, suddenly have found their treasuries nearly depleted. The losses, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, ought to raise serious doubts about the ability of fiduciaries throughout organized labor to manage assets competently.



The Madoff (pronounced “made-off”) scandal is a dramatic, colorful and tragic story made possible by excessive optimism in an economy leveraged to the hilt. Bernie Madoff, a former NASDAQ chairman, wanted to make a fortune for himself and others. The best way to do this, he thought, was to win the trust of like-minded well-to-do people. Through his firm, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, he and top aides for some two decades practiced a well-honed sales pitch to select audiences. After collecting their money, he invested it, bypassing established brokers in favor of retail brokers taking over-the-counter orders.



The arrangement, which amounted to a complex money-laundering scheme, appeared to work so long as Madoff could find new investors eager for consistently high annual returns and unwilling to ask too many questions. But when the stock market crashed beginning in late 2007, the new investors didn’t materialize and the existing ones became highly worried. The cash-strapped Madoff couldn’t satisfy all those people who now wanted out. His firm imploded in December 2008, leaving a long trail of financial devastation. After his two sons tipped off the FBI to what appeared to be illegal activity, Madoff turned himself in to bureau agents in New York City. His assets – what’s left of them – are now frozen. He’s been under house arrest at his Upper East Side penthouse apartment, and will remain so until his criminal indictment, expected sometime in the middle of this month. Additionally, the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) and Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) each have filed a civil suit against Madoff.



The phrase “Ponzi scheme” has been on everyone’s lips. Indeed, Madoff himself has used that phrase in admitting to what he ran. Embarrassing as it was to be on his list of clients, his victims are coming forth in an effort to get their money back. First, they’ve got to figure out how much they’ve lost. And that will take time, for labor unions as well as the others. Patrick Morin, secretary-treasurer and business manager for Empire State Carpenters Fringe Benefit Funds, admits: “It’s not that easy to unravel.” His organization’s consolidated portfolio as of the end of last June was around $800 million. Almost all of that, say inside sources, was exposed to Madoff’s collapse. Morin has hired a law firm to file a class-action suit in hopes of finding all investment records going back 15 years or more. According to CNBC, the Syracuse area’s Carpenters Local 747 lost most of its $100 million to $150 million in pension funds invested with Madoff through J.P. Jeanneret Associates. The Syracuse-based investment adviser overall is exposed to a whopping $946 million in Madoff-related losses.



The Carpenters wasn’t the only union in central upstate New York to get bamboozled. Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 267, which represents about 1,300 active workers and retirees, may have lost as much as $48 million in Madoff-held health and pension funds invested through Jeanneret. The United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers & Allied Workers Local 195 in Cicero, N.Y. and Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 73 in Oswego, N.Y. each recently sent out letters to members informing them of huge losses. The New York State chapter of the AFL-CIO has reported that fully eight affiliates in the Syracuse area took a bath. Meanwhile, at the western end of the state, Laborers International Union of North America Local 210, formerly in the grip of the Buffalo mob, has achieved notoriety of a different kind: Its pension funds lost as much as $30 million to Madoff’s bad decisions.



Superficially, union beneficiaries are protected. Securities Investor Protection Corporation insures investors against up to $500,000 in losses. But that doesn’t mean everyone, or even close to that, will get their money back. There are several reasons. First, SIPC asset reserves are currently only $1.7 billion, backed up by a $1 billion credit line from the U.S. Treasury and some additional lines from foreign sources. Put simply, the agency isn’t equipped to handle a deluge of claims. Second, SIPC coverage extends only to missing cash or securities due to brokerage collapse or malfeasance, not to losses from price declines. Third, claims may well be treated in the aggregate rather than individually. The Empire State Carpenters benefit funds, for example, comprise 16,000 contributing individual account holders. Yet many investments with Madoff were made through a single adviser, most of all, Jeanneret Associates. SIPC might well determine that each feeder firm constitutes a single investor even if it manages multiple accounts. Fourth, forcing early investors to hand over their gains may be harder than it looks. It’s true that under recent court precedent, such investors may be required to return funds given evidence of a “fraudulent conveyance.” But a fund trustee first has to prove fraud. Fifth, it will take years to identify participants in the Madoff collapse. Common sense as well as evidence suggests his scheme was far too sophisticated to have been a solo job. Already, federal investigators have discovered apparently fraudulent documents in Madoff’s Manhattan offices and are looking into who prepared them. Among those who could be indicted are investment adviser-philanthropist J. Ezra Merkin, Madoff accountant David Friehling, brokerage owner Maurice Cohn, and investment adviser Stanley Chais.



So what does all this say about union benefit fund managers who put beneficiaries in harm’s way? More specifically, why didn’t they check out Madoff and his feeder firms more thoroughly? Union members may be asking themselves the same thing – and not just the ones whose money evaporated with Madoff. The three major U.S. automakers, for example, on January 1, 2010 are set to transfer more than $50 billion in retiree health benefits to United Auto Workers-managed benefit plans. Active and retired workers are hoping there isn’t another version of Bernie Madoff waiting to invest this pot of funds. More than ever, due diligence is a necessity, not a luxury. (Bloomberg News, 12/13/08; New York Times, 12/14/08, 12/15/08; Syracuse Post-Standard, 1/3/09; CNBC, 1/8/09; Buffalo News, 1/25/09; other sources).

 

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  posted on 3/2/2010 at 11:10 AM
quote:
I'll do that, jim. He's not at all happy with the union. Unfortunately, he can't just shut his company down because he would still have to pay big bucks to the union every year. I don't really understand it all, but he regrets the day he ever became a union contractor.


He’d also probably get the giant inflatable rat stuck in front of any of his jobs if he went away from being a union contractor. Do they use those out west? They use them all over NYC. It could be a guy who is not union changing a friggin’ light bulb and they will put that rat out. It’s actually kind of funny to see.


 

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  posted on 3/2/2010 at 11:17 AM
quote:
quote:
I'll do that, jim. He's not at all happy with the union. Unfortunately, he can't just shut his company down because he would still have to pay big bucks to the union every year. I don't really understand it all, but he regrets the day he ever became a union contractor.


He’d also probably get the giant inflatable rat stuck in front of any of his jobs if he went away from being a union contractor. Do they use those out west? They use them all over NYC. It could be a guy who is not union changing a friggin’ light bulb and they will put that rat out. It’s actually kind of funny to see.




I've never seen the rat, but that's funny. I was a union carpenter back in the 70s, and for a little while about 10 years ago. I joined the South Lake Tahoe local, and while they gave me a cool T-shirt, hat, stickers, etc, they never sent me out on a job.

I've walked a picket line, and I've crossed a picket line to go to work. I worked behind picket lines in a paper mill in Rumford, Maine. I've eaten cheese when that was all there was to eat. But I've never seen the big rat.

 

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Maximum Peach



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  posted on 3/2/2010 at 11:33 AM
Perhaps its an east coast thing!! They have a skunk now too!! Wonder if union dues go to pay for such props? It would be f'ing great if I could put the rat out at my desk whenever someone did something I didn't approved of at work.
 

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  posted on 3/2/2010 at 11:38 AM
quote:
Perhaps its an east coast thing!! They have a skunk now too!! Wonder if union dues go to pay for such props? It would be f'ing great if I could put the rat out at my desk whenever someone did something I didn't approved of at work.


It is probably an NYC thing. I never saw one in Georgia. Maybe it is something new, but the unions aren't nearly as big outside of the northeast, and in more rural areas. The carpenters union used to be big in California, doing a lot of the residential work, but not anymore. Trade unions will be a thing of the past someday, I'm afraid.

I don't know how the construction industry will shake out when things finally start coming back. The longer it stays slow, the more work will be available when it does come back. Maybe most of the Mexicans doing the work now will be back in Mexico. Lots of people are leaving the trades, with virtually none coming in right now. Lots of uncertainty ahead in a field that used to be a cornerstone of American productivity and creativity.

 

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  posted on 3/2/2010 at 02:56 PM
I worked for two cities and served over twenty years on pension boards of trustees.
Florida has measures implemented years ago to ensure funding of pension plans at the local level
as well as the state level. Municipalities also have their own restrictions. Some are more liberal
than others. I know there are funding problems, but pension funds are designed to be funded over long periods of time.

Between 1995 and 2005 many municipal plans in Florida were enhanced considerably and that included Firefighters and Police Officers plans. Those plans were the most generous. Also certain management plans were enhanced.

Unfortunately some cities closed out pension funds to current and future employees and opened a 401(k) type plan with contributions from
employers and employees. The unions were convinced this would be more lucrative for them. So were some short-sighted management. But
I'm not aware of any Police or Fire plans converted.

Colorado's new law is unconstitutional. Once you are vested in a plan, eligible to retire or retired, your
benefits cannot be reduced, as you noted in your post.

Municipalities in Florida have a limit on increasing taxes for operating expenditures and retirement fund contributions are included in that. The limit is 10 mills. However some cities have issued bonds to fund their unfunded liability to be paid back over a long term. But Florida requires municipalities to fund their pension plans. It will be a challenge.

One way is to make changes for future employees and have a tiered system. I have seen this done in pension plans. Of course they could also make changes to current employees who are not vested.
___________________________________________________________________________ __________

If the only problem is not getting their increase, these folks should take a look around and consider themselves lucky. I expect we'll see a lot of similar stories in the future.


In answer to this statement, it has nothing to do with being lucky. Many people chose government service as a career for it's long term stability and pension plans, even though higher paying jobs were available to them. I've heard many people say they would never work for government for various reasons. We all made our choices and I was interested in stability mainly.

The pension plans are contractual and especially as they apply to collective bargaining units. They are protected by law and that has to be honored.

 

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  posted on 3/2/2010 at 03:11 PM
quote:
Colorado's new law is unconstitutional. Once you are vested in a plan, eligible to retire or retired, your
benefits cannot be reduced, as you noted in your post.



Ruth…In your experience as a Trustee, how do you reconcile the differences in having no money to pay the benefits and/or the increases and constitutionality, i.e that you can’t reduce benefits under the law? Have you had such experience? Seems like a big pickle obviously.

I mentioned the conference that I attended earlier and some of the plans talked about “listening tours” they did, where they listened to the plan participants and citizens from around the state. One person made the analogy to their employees that they will have to take this bitter pill of reducing benefits, working longer, taking home less money, etc. It should make the patient better in the long run, but it does not taste good right now. The flipside would be to do nothing and keep the status quo and then they wouldn’t be able to meet any of their obligations.

Also, your point about plans moving to 401K or defined contributions, I believe is the way most plans will eventually move. I think the defined benefit model may eventually go the way of the dinosaur. I already see it quite a bit in the corporate pension world and a little in the public pension world. Many are freezing their DB plans and moving to DC plans.

 

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  posted on 3/2/2010 at 09:39 PM
quote:
quote:
Colorado's new law is unconstitutional. Once you are vested in a plan, eligible to retire or retired, your
benefits cannot be reduced, as you noted in your post.



Ruth…In your experience as a Trustee, how do you reconcile the differences in having no money to pay the benefits and/or the increases and constitutionality, i.e that you can’t reduce benefits under the law? Have you had such experience? Seems like a big pickle obviously.

I mentioned the conference that I attended earlier and some of the plans talked about “listening tours” they did, where they listened to the plan participants and citizens from around the state. One person made the analogy to their employees that they will have to take this bitter pill of reducing benefits, working longer, taking home less money, etc. It should make the patient better in the long run, but it does not taste good right now. The flipside would be to do nothing and keep the status quo and then they wouldn’t be able to meet any of their obligations.

Also, your point about plans moving to 401K or defined contributions, I believe is the way most plans will eventually move. I think the defined benefit model may eventually go the way of the dinosaur. I already see it quite a bit in the corporate pension world and a little in the public pension world. Many are freezing their DB plans and moving to DC plans.



It is no doubt a difficult situation. I have never experienced anything like this. However, one city I worked for had amended the retirement plans for any new employees. The new employees would receive less. This change took place around 1978 actually and when I went to work for them in the 1980's, I was in the lower benefit plan.

Another city, as I said above, when faced with a huge unfunded liability, issued bonds to shore up the pension fund. The bonds were to be paid off over a long term, probably twenty years, though I'm not positive about the term.

I agree with you, defined benefit plans will be closed to new employees or frozen and defined contribution plans will be implemented for the future.

The last board I was on had very responsible trustees and we hired a very good independent investment consultant. We had gotten burned, prior to that by using a consultant from a company that also had a brokerage business

I don't see how they can get around the constitutional issue, unless they negotiate with the retirees. I wonder if any of the state statutes contemplate remedies for the current situation.

I retired early in 2004 and have not been involved in pension funds since that time. However I will be doing some research into the matter.

All governments, at all levels, in Florida have had to make serious cutbacks. A neighboring county had to cut 25% of it's budget. That meant serious layoffs.

 

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  posted on 3/3/2010 at 10:04 AM
I feel for anyone who lost pension savings, it really sucks.

My customers that have pensions are faced with severe underfunding due to the market. I'm not sure why, but they had to accrue the underfunded pension last year, but have to actually fund it with cash this year and it's going to be a big hit for some of them to absorb.

I've worked for various size banks for many years, when I started, all offered defined benefit plans. Now almost all have terminated those plans in favor of making an additional 401k contribution which is typically much less costly.

 

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Maximum Peach



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  posted on 3/5/2010 at 08:53 AM
Some more news on this front:

Utah DB plan could be closed under legislation
By Timothy Inklebarger
March 4, 2010, 3:58 PM ET

The Utah Legislature approved legislation to close to new employees the $19.2 billion Salt Lake City-based Utah State Retirement System’s defined benefit pension plan.

Employees would get a choice to join a new hybrid retirement plan with reduced benefits or an existing 401(k) plan.

The changes, in two bills sponsored by state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, await Gov. Gary R. Herbert’s signature.

The bills maintain the DB plan for current employees without any changes.

The bills also would keep state government employers from having to make plan contributions to workers who retired and later returned to work for the state, a practice known as double-dipping.

The Legislature did not advance a proposal that would have given employers the discretion to determine whether to contribute the equivalent of 1.5% of employees’ salaries to their 401(k) plans.

Mr. Liljenquist did not return calls requesting an interview.

 

Zen Peach



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  posted on 3/5/2010 at 07:24 PM
quote:
Some more news on this front:

Utah DB plan could be closed under legislation
By Timothy Inklebarger
March 4, 2010, 3:58 PM ET

The Utah Legislature approved legislation to close to new employees the $19.2 billion Salt Lake City-based Utah State Retirement System’s defined benefit pension plan.

Employees would get a choice to join a new hybrid retirement plan with reduced benefits or an existing 401(k) plan.

The changes, in two bills sponsored by state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, await Gov. Gary R. Herbert’s signature.

The bills maintain the DB plan for current employees without any changes.

The bills also would keep state government employers from having to make plan contributions to workers who retired and later returned to work for the state, a practice known as double-dipping.

The Legislature did not advance a proposal that would have given employers the discretion to determine whether to contribute the equivalent of 1.5% of employees’ salaries to their 401(k) plans.

Mr. Liljenquist did not return calls requesting an interview.



Sounds like a reasonable solution.

 

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