SYNOPSIS

While retired government employees clearly depend on public sector defined benefit pension funds, these plans also contribute significantly to U.S. state and national economies. Growing public concern about the funding adequacy of these plans, hard hit by the great recession, raises questions about their future viability. After several years of study, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) approved two new standards, GASB 67 and 68, with the goal of substantially improving the accounting for and transparency of financial reporting of state/municipal public employee defined benefit pension plans. GASB 68, the focus of this paper, requires state/municipal governments to calculate and report a net pension liability based on a single discount rate that combines the rate of return on funded plan assets with a low-risk index rate on the unfunded portion of the liability. This paper illustrates the calculation of estimates for GASB 68 reportable net pension liabilities, funded ratios, and single discount rates for 48 fiscal year state employee defined benefit plans by using an innovative valuation model and readily available data. The results show statistically significant increases in reportable net pension liabilities and decreases in the estimated hypothetical GASB 68 funded ratios and single discount rates. Our sensitivity analyses examine the effect of changes in the low-risk rate and time period on these results. We find that reported discount rates of weaker plans approach the low-risk rate, resulting in higher pension liabilities and creating policy incentives to increase risky assets in pension portfolios.

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