Below is an executive summary of the Governor’s Task Force Report. You will find the full report at the bottom of this article.
Read POAM’s response, written by President Jim Tignanelli, to the report HERE.
In his January 2017 State of the State address, Governor Rick Snyder announced the creation of a task force focused on addressing the unfunded pension and retiree health care liabilities of local governments in Michigan. Without intervention and a collaborative solution, this problem may continue to grow – jeopardizing the quality of life and delivery of essential services in those communities experiencing stress while creating instability for the retirees and employees who depend on these benefits. The severity of this problem varies widely and some communities have already taken proactive steps to address their situations.
Of the approximately 1,800 local general purpose governments in Michigan, roughly one third provide post-retirement benefits. Due to a multitude of factors, many communities are now facing challenges funding the benefits to retirees. The total unfunded pension liability is estimated to be around $7.46 billion. The total unfunded liability for retiree health care is estimated at $10.13 billion. It is estimated that, for many Michigan cities, roughly 20 cents on the dollar goes to pay pension and OPEB costs. In some communities, this number is growing faster and continues to be a bigger share of local budgets over time. Michigan is not alone in facing this growing crisis. State and local governments across the nation are also experiencing the same issues.
The goal for the task force, named the Responsible Retirement Reform for Local Government Task Force, was to drive collaboration among legislators, state and local government officials, employee representatives, pension managers and insurance professionals, to ensure the financial stability and effective delivery of local government services, while meeting the commitments made to employees in the coming decades. The Task Force consisted of 20 voting members and four ex-officio members. The Task Force was co-chaired by Ben Carter, Executive Vice President and Interim Leader of East Group Operations for Trinity Health, and David Breen, retired Managing Partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
Governor Snyder directed the Task Force to provide recommendations on pension and retiree health care reforms by spring 2017. Between February and May 2017, the Task Force met ten times alternately in Detroit and Lansing to discuss the size and scope of the problem and potential solutions to address this incredibly complex and growing issue.
In an effort to develop a comprehensive set of recommendations, the Task Force agreed on the following key understandings and concepts which were used as a filter during deliberations of final recommendations:
- As local units across the state are unique and at different stages in dealing with this problem, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution – we must be flexible in our approach.
- Attention should focus on the local units experiencing the greatest fiscal stress as it relates to pension and OPEB liabilities.
- In communities where a serious problem exists, something must be done immediately to begin to fix it for the benefit of employees/retirees, our communities and the state. This problem was created over many decades and will take many more to correct.
- Solutions must ensure that this problem does not continue to grow in the future.
- It is understood that there are local units that simply cannot raise taxes or reduce costs enough to address their unfunded liabilities.
- The broader solution to fiscal stability must include balancing efficient use of revenues and control of long-term liabilities, provision of current services, and local government revenue constraints, while assuring retirement security for employees in order to attract and retain the qualified workforce necessary to provide essential services.
With these agreed upon understandings and concepts in mind, the Task Force agreed on four main recommendations:
- Greater reporting and transparency must be required of all local units to ensure a full understanding of the size and scope of the problem, and where the biggest challenges exist. This includes reporting using uniform assumptions to allow for better comparisons.
- A pension and OPEB fiscal stress test system for local governments should be created to alert and assist local units in crafting solutions to best position them to continue to serve their residents, while funding their obligations and protecting benefits for employees and retirees. This system should identify and focus action on the local units experiencing the greatest fiscal stress.
- This system, along with the creation of a new Municipal Stability Board (MSB), should assist in the review of a local unit’s finances and the development of a corrective action plan. The MSB should also provide research, training and technical assistance.
- In addition to meeting existing constitutional and statutory requirements to pay pension costs, going forward all local governments should meet a minimum requirement to pay OPEB normal costs for new hires (i.e., to prefund new active employee’s current year obligation), if offered.
The Task Force worked diligently to find consensus where possible, however it must be noted that there were a few key issues for which there was fundamental disagreement:
- Some Task Force members were opposed to the establishment of new funding requirements, concerned it would have too severe an impact on the local government’s ability to provide current services. While they recognized these liabilities as important, they maintained that the focus should be on making benefits more affordable and having adequate cash flow to maintain current services.
- A majority of Task Force members were opposed to the establishment of plan design requirements for all local governments, believing that the local unit, through the collective bargaining process, should have the flexibility to agree upon what works best within their communities.
- While the Task Force agreed to the concept of a MSB, it could not agree on the powers it would have. A majority of the Task Force members felt that the MSB’s role should be limited to making recommendations and providing technical support. A minority thought the MSB should be able to unilaterally impose changes if the local unit was unable to successfully implement a corrective action plan.
While many Task Force members raised the need to further examine the availability of state revenue and local flexibility to raise additional revenue, it was determined this was beyond the scope of the Task Force’s work and is therefore not discussed extensively in this report. Additional items that were discussed, but did not receive consensus, are noted in Appendix A of this report.
Download in full -> Governor’s Task Force Report