The Competitive Enterprise Institute grabbed our attention when it released a new report comparing the unfunded pension liabilities of all 50 states. Spoiler alert: Missouri ranks in the middle third (more on this later).
An interesting point raised in the report was that, “…the discount rate used in the valuation of liabilities should be a low-risk rate, ideally as low as the rate on Treasury bonds.” In a Show-Me Institute Policy Study, Andrew Biggs also urged state pensions to use a low-discount rate in valuing their liabilities (the discount rate is the interest rate that pension plans use to translate future liabilities into current dollars). It’s encouraging to know that other institutes are reaching similar conclusions.
However, it isn’t encouraging that this report found that after using a more appropriate discount rate, the amount of Missouri’s unfunded pension liabilities totaled more than 4 percent of Missouri’s entire economy. As of the end of last year, Missouri’s economy was $258 billion; 4.2 percent of that is $10.8 billion. If the state cannot make up that amount, then you, the taxpayer, are on the hook to make up the difference. There are other states whose pensions are in much worse shape than Missouri’s, but our state still faces an economic ticking time bomb. Whether dealing with a grenade (Missouri) or a daisy cutter (Illinois), taxpayers will not be happy to be caught in the blast. The Show-Me Institute has written extensively about how Missouri can start to address its pension problems by shifting to more efficient plans such as defined contribution or cash balance plans. Hopefully, this new report can serve as a wake-up call to policymakers that change is needed.