Haslam Signs Local Government Pension Reform Bill Into Law

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Governor Bill Haslam has signed into law a bill that officials said is designed to assure Tennessee local government entities fully pay the annual payment to their public employee pension plans in order to protect the financial stability of local governments and to protect workers’ pensions.

The legislation, called the first of its kind in the nation, was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Rep. Steve McManus (R-Memphis) and written by state Treasurer David Lillard, Jr. 

Officials said nationally recognized experts have commented on the favorable effect of the legislation on government financial stability.

 The new law, called the Public Employee Defined Benefit Financial Security Act of 2014, will require all local government entities that operate pension plans in Tennessee to pay the payments recommended by their actuaries each year. These payments, formerly known as the Annual Required Contribution or ARC, are the amount of money actuaries determine is needed to annually fund in a financially-sound manner the benefits provided by public pension plans.

 Under the new law, local government entities that have not been paying 100 percent of their ARC will have six years to gradually ramp up their yearly payments. If local government entities fail to pay 100 percent of the ARC after that phase-in period, the state will have the authority to withhold money it provides to those governments and use it to make the required payments.

 Previously-existing law had long required that the approximately 500 local government entities in the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, or TCRS, pay 100 percent of the yearly ARC. Local government entities in TCRS have also long been subject to possible state intercept of funds if they failed to pay 100 percent on the ARC. As a result, TCRS is ranked by various organizations as having one of the best funded pension plans in the nation. This legislation simply applies these best practices to local government pension plans that are not already in TCRS.

 “The overwhelming majority of local governments in Tennessee are members of the TCRS and are already paying 100 percent or more of their ARC each year, so this law will not affect them,” said Senator Norris, the bill's prime sponsor in the Senate. “For those few that don’t pay 100 percent, this law will move them toward a more sustainable financial future. When local governments hire employees and promise them pensions, those promises need to be kept. This law will reduce the likelihood that local government pension plans will run out of money at some point in the future and help protect taxpayers from the costly burdens of potential default."

“Each year that a local government doesn’t fully fund its ARC, it creates a liability that will eventually have to be paid,” said Representative McManus, the bill’s House sponsor. “Those liabilities add up over time. And when the costs of providing those pensions come due, it can create a tremendous burden for future generations of taxpayers if the pension plans have been underfunded for years.”

 “A local government that fails to pay 100 percent of its ARC each year is like a runner with a shorter stride than the people he is racing against,” Treasurer Lillard said. “With each stride, the runner falls farther and farther behind the competition. For local governments not funding annual pension payments, it is the taxpayers who ultimately lose.”

 “This legislation is something all states should consider,” said Charles E.F. Millard, managing director, head of pension relations for Citigroup and a former director of the United States Pension Guaranty Corporation. “The health of public pensions depends upon their investment returns and plan structures, of course. But the key determinant of the health of our public plans is whether the public employer makes its full annual contribution. If everyone did this, public pensions would be far healthier than they are today.”

 “From a credit standpoint, we have always viewed full funding of the ARC as a positive and important element of a government’s liability management,” said John Sugden, a senior director at Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services.

 Each local government entity will continue to choose the actuaries that will determine their ARC payments, provided those actuaries use generally-accepted accounting methods when making their calculations.

 There is also a provision that will allow the Tennessee Treasury Department to work with any local governments that would experience severe financial hardships if they cannot pay the transition payments over six years.

 The new law does not require payment of unfunded liabilities that local governments have already accumulated - it simply addresses the financial methodology that pension plans should follow going forward into a financially strong future.

 “Tennessee has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best financially managed states in the nation,” Treasurer Lillard said. “This landmark legislation continues that proud tradition by applying a common sense approach to local government pension funding.”

 The Public Employee Defined Benefit Financial Security Act of 2014 is Public Chapter 990, which may be viewed at http://www.tn.gov/sos/acts/108/pub/pc0990.pdf


State Supreme Court Adds Donation Option To Attorney Registrations

The  Tennessee Supreme Court will add a voluntary funding mechanism for attorneys to contribute to access to justice programs, but will not require attorneys to report pro bono hours under changes adopted today. In an order filed on Tuesday, the Court “ continues to encourage strongly voluntary reporting of pro bono participation.” Pro bono service refers to  attorneys ... (click for more)

More Than 2,000 Jobs Available At Northwest Georgia Career Expo In Ringgold Thursday

The Northwest Georgia Career Expo, which will feature around 90 employers, will be held in Catoosa County on Thursday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at The Colonnade, 264 Catoosa Circle in Ringgold.  Officials said, "Job seekers in northwest Georgia will have excellent opportunities to get a job from among more than 2,000 jobs being offered by employers." Hundreds of job seekers ... (click for more)

Tennessee Broadband Expansion Bill Sought By EPB Put On Hold For Now

Advocates for broadband expansion in Tennessee, including Chattanooga's EPB, announced Tuesday that efforts to extend community-based fiber optic networks are being placed on hold for now "because there is not enough support among state lawmakers to change a state regulation that prevents the expansion of municipal fiber optic systems." EPB earlier won a ruling from the Federal ... (click for more)

Haslam Adds K-12 Funds In Budget Amendment

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam on Tuesday unveiled additions to the FY 2015-2016 budget that will be considered by the General Assembly in the coming weeks, including added funding for K-12. The governor last week met with school superintendents from the largest systems in the state over the issue of state funding for K-12. The next day, the Hamilton County Schools joined ... (click for more)

Physicians Thank Their Patients On Doctor’s Day

March 30 has been set aside as National Doctors’ Day since 1933 as a time to recognize the contributions made by our physicians. While the recognition is appreciated, our greatest satisfaction comes from caring for our patients.  For 132 years, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society has been the physicians’ voice as we worked together to improve health of our community. ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Look At My April Garden

On this April Fool’s Day, as I take my monthly stroll through my virtual garden, there are gorgeous flowers and there are weeds, which appear to be trying harder than the flowers. So let’s see what we find before searching for “The Prize Egg” on Sunday. A FLOWER to the New York cab driver who told a young writer, “Always remember that everyone you meet knows something that you ... (click for more)