Two new reports by the Pew Charitable Trusts suggest that state governments across the country are shortchanging their employee pension funds and aren’t adding enough money in emergency funding accounts to prepare for the next economic crisis or recession.
Mishandling hundreds of billions of dollars of pension funds and draining emergency spending accounts could pose serious problems for governors and state legislators when the next big economic crisis hits.
Even states that have overcome the effects of the recession may face financial pressures that could shape their budgets now and for years to come. A major issue for a number of states is how to cope with an accumulation of unfunded public pension and retiree health care liabilities, which total more than $1.5 trillion nationwide. In addition, debate among U.S. lawmakers over financing for Medicaid, which is jointly funded by federal and state governments, has sparked fresh uncertainty over how much of the costs states will pay. The health care program accounts for the largest share of total federal aid to states. Another challenge for states is tax revenue volatility, which can confound policymakers’ best efforts to balance budgets.
Delaware is not the only state that has struggled to use its rainy day fund effectively. Between fiscal years 2003 and 2007, most states experienced strong tax revenue growth, which rose more than 7 percent on average annually across the 50 states. While this would suggest an opportunity for states to make deposits to their rainy day funds, 22 states did the opposite and made withdrawals at least once. Conversely, from 2008 to 2010, many states experienced their worst recession-driven revenue downturn in decades—a perfect time for withdrawals— and yet eight did not use any of their rainy day funds. In some states, like New York, repayment provisions probably discouraged their use. In others, clear conditions for withdrawal were absent, as was the case in Delaware.
The California State Auditor has delivered a damning assessment of the management practices at the single largest university system in the United States. . . In other words, administrators have been hiring more administrators for make-work positions and giving each other raises without sufficient accountability in a self-perpetuating cycle of bureaucratic decay that is sadly endemic to academia at large.
In another ruling allowing pension cuts, an appeals court last week overturned a state labor board ruling that a voter-approved San Diego pension reform was invalid because the city declined to bargain the issue with labor unions.