North Dakota’s Public Worker Union Bosses Are Living In An Alternate Version Of Reality


Myself and others have been sounding the alarm on North Dakota’s public worker pensions for some time now, pointing out that the funds aren’t hitting revenue projections and have huge shortfalls.

Even the reliably left-wing Grand Forks Herald editorial page has noted the problem, writing earlier this week that “Pensions for public-sector workers in North Dakota represent a huge challenge.”

But the state’s public worker union bosses are having nothing of it. In a letter to the Herald, Gary Feist and Dakota Draper of the state’s public worker and teachers’ union respectively dismiss any suggestion that the state’s pension funds are in trouble.

“Anyone who has ever attended a single PERS or TFFR meeting in the last biennium or attended an Interim Legislative Committee Hearing related to this issue would know that the plans are well on their way back to solvency with no additional funding required,” they wrote in the joint letter.

It’s good to know that the state’s public worker unions don’t believe the 2% increase in pension funding Governor Dalrymple proposed in his executive budget earlier this month is necessary. Legislators should cross that spending line item out with ink.

But the suggestion that these pension funds aren’t in jeopardy is downright laughable. According to recent audit reports, the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) has fallen to only 65% funded in 2012, down from being 70.5% funded in 2011:


The Teachers Fund For Retirement (TFFR) is only 60.9% funded in 2012, down from 66.3% in 2011:


If this downward spiral is evidence of the funds being “well on their way back to solvency,” I have a bridge to sell you.

And if these pension fund meetings that are occurring have become mutual back-scratching societies where state officials and union bosses tell one another that somethings wrong, maybe it’s time for additional public scrutiny on what’s going on at the meetings.

Yes, these shortfalls are projects for years and years down the road. But North Dakota is in the fiscal shape to be able to address these problems now, and this state’s leaders shouldn’t be in the habit of leaving problems for succeeding generations to solve.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • sbark

    Wisc was dead arse broke—and the public unions turned very militant and demanding they still get theirs……..they did not want to contribute to any solutions in any way.

    I can see NDak Public Union attitude…….the state has money, still has untapped resource of property taxation due to the defeat of Meas. 2, oil money flowing in

    —whats the problem????—…….and that is the problem, see the blog post on “no pain” in a big govt world.

  • Concerned State Employee

    Feist and Draper’s livelihood depends on deceiving those they claim to represent on the defined benefit vs defined contribution issue. The memberships in their organizations are low, and if they lose this debate there really is no reason why those who are members (generally those few public employees who give all of us a bad name by thinking their “rights” and benefits are more important than doing the right thing to benefit the taxpayers) will continue to be, as preserving the defined benefit program is about the only reason these two “unions” exist.

    They can try to spin this all they want, and scare public employees, but it is the facts that public employees should be concerned with. Defined benefit programs are flawed by their very nature, are bankrupting other states, and despite our surplus it has potential to do severe financial damage to ours. You can’t benefit from a retirement program that is not sufficiently funded, or doesn’t exist anymore because everyone ahead of you used it up at a set rate of benefit without the investment returns being able to sustain that rate of benefit. Ours most certainly is not funded at a rate to sustain the benefits it defines (the audits speak for themselves), nor will it ever be from this point forward as defined benefit programs simply cannot stand on their own. It is time to migrate to a defined contribution program before we simply wont have a retirement system at all

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    I would be curious what the members of the unions think about the pensions. Although I’m a teacher, I’m not part of the union, so I can’t speak intelligently about union members. For my part: I wish I had the money I’m forced to put into the TFFR. I would have far more freedom in my choice of employment if I managed my own retirement.

    • RCND

      I think that would be the best solution…. for each person to manage their own retirement regardless of if they are public or private sector employees. But we have all been brainwashed into thinking we are not smart enough to do that.

      • Rob

        Think of how much more state employees and public workers could be paid if they just received their money in their paychecks, and didn’t have to contribute to these pensions (or pay for the overhead of administering the pensions).

  • kevindf

    The slackers on public payroll have their eyes on money in private IRAs and 401ks.

  • MG

    These pension funds were structurally unsound from the start, requiring 8% annual return or more to meet obligations. A portfolio with that asset allocation has too much volatility to promise anyone a defined benefit. All knew it was too good to be true at the time the deal was made. Time to correct this mistake, and soon. No bailout.

    • Rob

      Step one is to stop digging a hole by requiring all new hires take a defined-contribution fund.