NJ Fiscal Folly

Friday, May 05, 2006

Pension Deficits Are Local Too

Yesterday, State Treasurer Bradley Abelow indicated that a new estimate shows that the state's public employee pension system has a deficit of $18 billion. Altough I think this figure is still too low, it's certainly more realistic than the prior estimate of $12 billion, which was a total fiction based on wildly optimistic assumptions, such as inflated investment returns.

The state's pension system consolidates the pension obligations of both state government and local governments. Based on the last available details (as of 6/30/04), the local government component of the total pension deficit is roughly 30%, or $5.4 billion.

The two main pieces of the local government pension deficit are police and firemen (PFRS; 80%) and other employees (PERS; 20%). Teachers are considered a state obligation, not a local one.

As the NJ League of Municipalities has pointed out, "the cost to local government for one PFRS member is approximately three times more than the cost of a local government PERS member". Local government pension liabilities for police and firemen are driven by higher salaries, generous pension benefits (ie, income replacement ratios), and early retirement options.

The cost of local government pension liabilities is ultimately paid by local property taxes. Thus, while it's currently convenient (and mostly appropriate) to focus on the state's overall financial problems, and the shortcomings of Gov Corzine's proposed budget, taxpayers should also remember that there are major liabilities and cost drivers a lot closer to home.

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