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.