Kansas City: Grabbing the Pension Bull by the Horns?
Kansas City has recently begun to confront its future pension crisis. The issue is captured succinctly in the following quote from City Manager Troy Schulte, taken from a Kansas City Star editorial (emphasis mine):
City Manager Troy Schulte was appropriately blunt recently discussing Kansas City’s troubled pension system. He proposed good changes that could affect thousands of current and future city employees, while saving taxpayer dollars along the way.
“I don’t think our pension system is sustainable in the current structure,” Schulte told [the Pension System Task Force] evaluating the city’s retirement programs. The panel, which meets again today, should pay close attention to his recommendations.
The Task Force is presently comparing its systems (police, firefighters, and city employee systems) to those of a peer group of eight cities, including Oklahoma City, Denver, and Minneapolis. And what are some of the preliminary findings? First, Kansas City taxpayers contribute an amount equal to 12.88 percent of a civilian employee’s salary towards his/her pension plan. This contribution rate is greater than rates in each of the peer group cities.
Second, the cost of living adjustment for retirees is three percent per year, higher than six of eight peer cities. Finally, the two percent per year multiplier is greater than those in seven of eight peer cities. Thus, retirees with 30 years of service receive 60 percent of their final average pay upon retirement. In Indianapolis, by comparison, a retiree would only be entitled to 30 percent, based on a one percent per year multiplier.
While Kansas City’s self-analysis is fine so far as it goes, greater Missouri has approximately 130 government employee pension programs, ranging in size from the gargantuan Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System to the relatively miniscule Antonia Fire Protection District Pension Plan. That’s right, 130!
Perhaps Kansas City is not alone, as the entire state of Missouri could be sitting on a pension time bomb.
Because public pensions are largely funded by Missouri taxpayers, taxpayers and their elected representatives need to address numerous issues in an open forum. For example, are present and future liabilities underfunded, and if so by how much? Will future shortfalls be funded in the form of taxpayer legacy costs (i.e., future tax increases), by increased employee contributions, or by some combination of both? Should we begin now to require government employees to contribute to their pensions from current wages, thus tamping the insatiable demand for increased future benefits that arises when pension beneficiaries are not required to bear the costs? Have the managers of these pension funds reasonably estimated future portfolio returns, thus assuring that today’s contributions adequately support tomorrow’s payouts?
One may easily imagine a host of further questions that need to be asked. That dialogue should occur soon, before time runs out.