House passes 2018 pension bill

May 21, 2018 from TRA Communications

Moments before the 2018 legislative session was gaveled to a close, the House unanimously approved the Omnibus Retirement Bill after a brief introduction by co-author and pension commission member Rep. Tim O’Driscoll. The bill now goes to Gov. Mark Dayton.
The bill includes sustainability measures for all four of Minnesota’s public employee pension systems: the Teachers Retirement Association (TRA), the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), the Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS), and the St. Paul Teachers Retirement Fund Association (SPTRFA).
For TRA, the law calls for a 1 percent retiree cost of living adjustment for five years (2019-2023), then increasing by 0.1 percent per year in each of the following five years (2024-2028) to 1.5 percent. The law also includes a provision to delay COLA payments to age 66 (effective July 1, 2024). This provision exempts those who retire under Rule of 90, age 62 with 30 years of service, disability benefits or survivor benefits.
The 2018 law includes a 0.25 percent employee contribution increase beginning July 1, 2023 (from 7.5 percent to 7.75 percent) and an employer contribution increase of 1.25 percent, from 7.5 percent to 8.75 percent, phased in over six years (fiscal years 2019-2024). The law also changes reduction calculations for early retirement over a five-year phase-in period (fiscal years 2020-2024). Age 62 with 30 years of service are exempt.
These measures reduce liabilities by $2.0 billion for TRA alone.
Upon passage in the Senate in March, pension bill co-author and chair of the Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement (LCPR) Sen. Julie Rosen praised the engagement of those who have worked for three years on a pension sustainability package with “significant benefit reforms” as well as contribution rate increases for employers and employees. Rosen said the effort reflects “true shared sacrifice.”
The bill reduces liabilities by about $3.4 million (all four systems) immediately, lowers the rate of return on investments to 7.5 percent, puts the plans on the path to full funding, provides funding to schools to offset increased pension contributions, ensures that unfunded liabilities won’t weigh down bond ratings, and safeguards the retirement security of public employees for the future.
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans earlier this year described the effort as a “very important sustainability package” that would improve the financial health of the pension funds and the state.
“We couldn’t have done it without the support of all stakeholder groups,” said TRA Executive Director Jay Stoffel. “This is a great step forward for the retirement security of the members, for the health of the pension fund and for the state of Minnesota.”
Passage of a pension sustainability package comes after failed attempts in 2016 and 2017 to address funding issues resulting from changes in public employee longevity and lower anticipated investment returns.
The TRA Board of Trustees endorsed the sustainability measures with the stipulation that contribution increases be funded, and that legislation reflect the board’s guiding principles: shared commitment, long-term financial stability, intergenerational equity and maintaining the recruitment and retention value of the TRA pension.
Among the administrative provisions affecting TRA are updates to actuarial assumptions used to assess the plan’s financial health. The most significant of these is a lowering of the assumed rate of return on investments from the current 8.5 percent to 7.5 percent. The assumed rate of return is a powerful mechanism; lowering it increases TRA’s liabilities and lowers the plan’s funded ratio.

Advertisements

House Passes Pension Stabilization Bill

With minutes left, House passes pension stabilization bill

By Melissa Turtinen

With just minutes left in the 90th legislative session, the House and Senate passed the omnibus pension and retirement bill.

The House passed HF3053/ SF2620*, as amended to include the House language, 131-0 late Sunday night. The Senate, which passed its bill 66-0 March 26, then had to act quickly to repass the amended version. It did, 67-0, and sent the bill to Gov. Mark Dayton.

Sponsored by Rep. Tim O’Driscoll (R-Sartell) and Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center), the bill would help stabilize pension plans for more than 500,000 Minnesotans, including teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees.

Members and stakeholders have stressed the bill needs to be signed into law this year because the amount going into pension accounts won’t be enough to pay benefits in the years to come due to increased liabilities. The bill would bring the funded ratio for the plans closer to 100 percent by adding funding and making benefit reforms to save on costs.

O’Driscoll told the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee earlier this month the proposal “is the 2016, 2017 and 2018 omnibus pension bill all rolled into one.”

Dayton vetoed the 2016 and 2017 bills. This year, he said stabilizing state pensions should be one of the Legislature’s top priorities and asked for a clean bill.

Administration officials told the committee the governor supports the bill. It also has the support of representatives of the state pension plans.

May 15, 2018: House Ways and Means Committee OKs Pension Bill

With just six days to go in the legislative session, the 2018 Omnibus Retirement Bill cleared a key hurdle on Monday evening, passing out of the House Ways and Means committee with no amendments added.
The pension bill now heads to the House floor, where it must be heard by midnight Sunday. The bill then will have to make another stop in the Senate because a couple of non-controversial amendments were added last week in the House. The full Senate already passed the pension bill on March 26.
The governor has indicated that he will sign the bill into law as long as no “poison pill” amendments or conditions are attached to it.
Meanwhile, the retirement systems are monitoring the conference committee in which the pension systems’ Minnesota IT Services (MnIT) exclusion is in play. Language has been inserted into a bill that would consolidate the retirement systems, the Minnesota State Board of Investment and Minnesota State Lottery IT operations into MnIT. These agencies have operated for years under an exemption, and there have been repeated efforts to strike this provision from statute.
This exclusion has allowed the pension systems, SBI and the lottery, financial behemoths dependent on state-of-the-art technology and security, to keep IT operations in-house. Due in part to assertive lobbying by the retirement systems, SBI and the lottery, the exclusion was preserved when the issue arose in 2017.
The retirement systems estimate that there would be a significant increase in IT costs if the systems were consolidated under MnIT. The additional cost would be about $2.4 million per year for TRA alone.

2018 Sustainability Bill Passes Out of Pension Commission

The Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement (LCPR) on Tues., March 13, passed the 2018 omnibus pension bill. The next stop for the bill is the Senate State Government Finance Committee, which will hear it on Thurs., March 15, at 1 p.m. in Room 1200 of the Minnesota Senate Building.
The bill includes sustainability measures for all four public pension systems: the Teachers Retirement Association (TRA), the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), the Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS), and the St. Paul Teachers Retirement Fund Association (SPTRFA).
Details on the bill, currently moving as SF 2620 (Senate version)/ HF 3353 (House version), may be viewed on the State Legislature website.
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans told commission members that Gov. Mark Dayton endorses the pension bill in its current form and will include the funds in his supplemental budget. Frans said the bill is a “very important sustainability package” that has been several years in the making and includes measures to improve the financial health of the pension funds and the state.
The bill reduces liabilities by about $3.4 million immediately, lowers the rate of return on investments to a “reasonable” 7.5 percent, puts the plans on the path to full funding, provides funding to schools to offset increased pension contributions, ensures that unfunded liabilities won’t weigh down bond ratings, and safeguards the retirement security of public employees for the future, Frans said.

KEY TRA PENSION BILL PROVISIONS
* COLA: 1.0% for 5 years (2019-2023), then increase by 0.1% per year in each of next five years (2024-2028) to 1.5%
* COLA delay to age 66  (effective 7/1/2024) (exempt: Rule of 90, disability, survivors, age 62/30 years)
* Early retirement: Increase penalties, 5-year phase-in (fiscal years 2020-2024), age 62/30 years exempt
* Employee contribution increase: +0.25% beginning in FY2024 (7.5% to 7.75%)
* Employer contribution increases: +1.25% phased in over 6 years, FY19-24 (7.5% to 8.75%)

Commission hears public comment on pension bill

The Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement (LCPR) on Tues., March 6, reviewed miscellaneous pension-related bills and again took up the 2018 Omnibus Retirement Bill. Numerous stakeholders spoke during the public testimony portion of the meeting.
Teachers Retirement Association (TRA) retirees from the group Retired Educators of Minnesota (REAM) said that REAM supports the pension bill as long as funding of the employer contribution portion is approved. REAM’s Lonnie Duberstein said that he is grateful for his defined-benefit pension and wants the same benefit to be preserved for the next generation of teachers.
Education Minnesota’s Rodney Rowe spoke to the recruitment and retention value of the TRA pension and said that his union supports the bill. Joan Beaver of REAM and Education Minnesota Retired and Louise Sundin of the Minneapolis Committee of 13 also spoke in support of the bill.
Representatives of school boards and administrators showed up in force to support the bill provided state pension adjustment aid is included. Scott Croonquist of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts thanked the commission for working out the pension adjustment formula, noting that because schools do not have general levy authority, such an aid provision is needed to offset increases in the TRA employer contribution.
Grace Keliher of the Minnesota School Boards Association, Valerie Dosland of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, Fred Nolan of the Minnesota Rural Education Association, and Joel Albright of Schools for Equity in Education also testified in favor of the pension bill.
Public safety and firefighter representatives testified that a strong pension system is needed to recruit and retain police officers. Joe Dellwo of the Minnesota State Patrol Trooper’s Association noted that state troopers don’t get Social Security and said that the bill represents shared sacrifice by all parties.
Members of the Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS) representing the state Pollution Control Agency and the University of Minnesota agreed that a healthy pension system helps attract and retain skilled public workers at a time when “brain drain” and succession planning are major concerns.
Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) members from AFSCME testified that the 1 percent COLA outlined in the bill is hard to swallow, but the union supports the bill. It was noted that many PERA retirees have no Social Security coverage and are therefore deeply dependent on their state pensions.
Also on Tuesday, the commission reviewed separate bills dealing with state aid eligibility reporting for the Clearbrook Fire Department Relief Association, TRA coverage election authority for a Minnesota State employee, coverage for PERA part-time paramedics and emergency medical technicians employed by Hennepin Healthcare System, and clarifying PERA DC distributions for those still employed.
The pension commission intends to pass the bill at its next meeting, March 13 at 5:30 p.m. in Room 1200, Senate Office Building.

Courtesy TRA Communications

Cof13
 Committee of 13
Communications Extra:

It is important to let your Representative and Senator know how important the passage of the LCPR Pension Omnibus Bill is – to you and to all Minnesotan.
The Pension Bill has numbers in both houses:  SF 2620 and HF 3053.  Chair Rosen is working to get universal support in the Senate and Rep. O’Driscol, Vice Chair, is working to get support in the House. Governor Mark Dayton has agreed to put funding for pensions into his Supplemental Budget.

Listen, Talk, Vote

It is an election year for Minnesota. Much is at stake.
Midterm elections don’t usually draw much voter turnout. When the state economy seems to be doing well, voters may think that not voting returns the status quo. These conditions favor the opposition, whose turnouts produce stunning defeats and are followed by dramatic reversals.
Minnesota stands out as a great place to live, for now. The governor’s efforts to hold off the forces of capital side pressure have preserved many gains for Minnesotans. That could come undone in November. There is a fragile and unreliable balance in power.
If the effects of an international trade war sharply depress the equity markets and the economy, pensions and other retirement savings could be similarly depressed and under renewed threat from the investment industry. Losses in farm exports could put further demands on our state’s resources. Meanwhile, prices for consumer goods as well as medical costs and inflation could rise. Social Security and Medicare are already under threat from blossoming Federal debt and the prevailing “everyone for her/himself” attitude in Washington.
We can anticipate debates around gun sentiment and actual education needs upping that piece of the next budget, while the 2017 budget standoff gets revisited attention. The #MeToo movement will rightly demand some actions. Meanwhile, other gender rights agendas lie right beneath the surface. And there will be water quality problems and climate change effects that are unpredictable but seemingly inevitable. Actions taken will have long-lasting outcomes.
Voting in November could not be any more important. Your everyday lives are far more impacted by state controlled factors than any other. Every candidate must be asked about all of the above points, and their answers must be clear and their positions firm. That’s how you must decide your votes.
If you’ve read this far, you were already committed to voting. Now commit to getting family and friends to do likewise. Find out where candidates are on the issues and get yourself and others to the polls in November. Every day you should think about what’s important in your life that the State of Minnesota affects in some way. Listen to what others are saying about these things and talk with them about why you feel as you do. Then every day, tell someone to vote in November.

Reps from Pew Charitable Trusts, South Dakota pension system speak at LCPR

The Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement on Mon., Feb. 19, heard testimony on a state public pension stress-testing analysis from researchers at the Pew Charitable Trusts. Also testifying was the executive director of the South Dakota Retirement System, a “hybrid defined benefit plan.”

The Pew research is part of its Public Sector Retirement Systems Project, which began in 2007 and has received funding from the anti-pension Laura and John Arnold Foundation. The research includes 50-state trends on public pensions and retiree benefits related to funding, investments, governance, and employee preferences.

In their discussion, presenters Susan Banta and Tim Dawson said that pension systems are “as exposed to the impact of an economic downturn as ever, based on measures of fiscal health and investment risk.” They added that pension fiscal health varies across states and cities. There is a $1.1 trillion pension funding gap in the nation, according to 2015 data collected from annual reports in all 50 states, Pew reports.

The stress testing referenced by Pew is an analysis in which adverse economic scenarios and market volatility are simulated to assess fiscal health. Stress testing also assesses the impact of lower investment returns or an economic recession on pension costs and liabilities. Pew touts its stress testing as a tool to aid administrators and policymakers to plan for the next market downturn. Banta and Dawson presented stress-tested projections for several states on metrics such as assets and contributions, and said that nine states presently require stress testing.

Robert Wylie, executive director of the South Dakota Retirement System, testified regarding recent plan changes at SDRS – notably legislation in 2017 tying the retiree cost-of-living adjustment to the Consumer Price Index inflation measure. The SDRS COLA equals the CPI-W with a minimum of .5 percent and a maximum of 3.5 percent that may be restricted based on actuarial projections for keeping the plan fully funded. 

All three speakers emphasized that each state is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to pension reform.

Also on Monday, the LCPR approved a motion to change all economic assumptions (except the investment rate of return) for the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS), and Teachers Retirement Association (TRA).

LCPR chair Sen. Julie Rosen laid out a timeline for upcoming meetings:

  • Feb. 27: Pension bill to be released.

  • March 6: Consider changes to the bill.

  • March 13: LCPR to vote on pension bill.

  • March 20: LCPR hearing on Secure Choice.

Courtesy of Minnesota TRA