The police pension fund of Erie, Pa., may have lost $600,000 of its $1.5 million in assets when three medical facilties into which the fund's investment counselor put retirement contributions experienced financial difficulties. The investment counselor was a retired policeman and plan beneficiary.
The Hudson County, N.J., Employes Pension Fund went bankrupt because its administrators permitted too many employes to retire on disability.
Albany, Ga's. pension fund earned an annual return on investment of 1.1 percent annually for 11 years. During that time, the chairman of the city pension board was a director of the bank which served as the fund's investment manager.
Brokers offered a bribe to the secretary-treasurer of the Alabame Retirement Systems to invest the funds assets in stocks they were touting.
There are approximately 6,700 separate pension plans in the United States today covering 15.5 million civilian and military employes of federal, state and local governments. Pennsylvania alone has 1.413 plans for its police firefighters, and teachers, while Hawaii has one.
These funds hold more than $115 billion in assets, or half as much as all the private pension funds in the country. yet public pension funds are at best poorly regulated, at worst, not at all.
This is the principall finding of a report made available yesterday by a House Pension Task Force - Pension Research Council which spent three years studying the public retirement systems of 96 percent of the public employes covered by pension plans. (Some 11 percnet of government workers have no pension plan at all save Social Security.)
The survey was mandated by the 1974 Employe Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which set up federal standards for pension plans in the private sector. Although the report does not make formal recommendations, its conclusions back up bills previously introduced by Reps. John Dent (D-Pa.) and John Erlenbron (R-I11.) to extend the disclosure, vesting and administrative provisions of ERISA to the public sector. Sen. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) also favors applying ERISA'S protention to government workers.
Existing federal laws were found ambigous. The task force concluded that the states - have failed to establish clear standards regulating the activities of plan fiduciories, and effective remedies for plans and plan participants when injury occurs as a resuits of abuse. (This) has resulted in generally ineffective communication of basic plan provisions inadequate safeguarding of plan assets, and insufficient protection of participants' interests."
At the same time, the study showed that beneficiaries of public plans are generally better off than were those in private plans before ERISA, when plans too frequently folded leaving their participants without funds. Although one-fifth of all public employes do not enjoy the minimum vesting rights set by ERISA (100 percent vesting after 10 years) their benefit levels and provisions compare favorably with the private sector in general. To public employes, the greatest risk of having their benefits ended or reduced comes instead from governmental financial problems, such as New York City has experience, and underfunding of public pension plans.
Last year, the General Accounting Office concluded that federal pension costs and liabilities were dangeroulsy understated. At the end of fiscal 1976, the reported unfunded liabilities came to $107 billion, a figure the task force considers way below the actual amount. Payments to retired civil servants hit $8.3 billion, and are expected to rise to $29 billion by 1985.
New York City is far from alone. Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles and Jacksonville, Fla., have unfunded pension liabilities that exceed their net municipal debt. In Los Angeles, half of the property taxes collected are needed to pay the pensions of city employes.
Forty percent of all public pension plans do not meet what pension experts call minimum standards. The ratio of unfunded accrued liability to current active payroll ranges from 0 to 800 percent from state and local plans. Estimated ratios are 516 percent for the Civil Service plan and 1600 percent for the military retirement system, according to the task force. And 17 percent of government.