Pension Transparency: Louisiana

2015 Pensions Policy

Goal

The state should disclose all financial and other data necessary for policymakers, school districts and the general public to have a clear and accurate depiction of the current standing and future health of the system. State teacher retirement systems als

Meets a small part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Pension Transparency: Louisiana results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/LA-Pension-Transparency-74

Analysis of Louisiana's policies

Teachers, policymakers and taxpayers deserve accurate and reliable information about the costs and benefits of the public pension systems they support.

Just as teachers can easily obtain their salary schedules, they should have access to information about pensions so that they can make informed decisions about their career and retirement futures. While Louisiana provides teachers with an annual benefits statement, the report includes very limited information about the value of pension benefits. Louisiana does not provide teachers with information on how their benefits accrue for each year of service, the amount contributed each year by teachers and employers on behalf of teachers, or the projected value of a teacher's contributions based on different assumptions about the rate of return expected (e.g. 4%, 6%, and 8%). Louisiana also does not provide teachers with transparent information about the opportunity cost of leaving contributions in the system by reporting how much might be earned if teachers were to put contributions into a personal retirement savings account.

Teachers in Louisiana enroll in a final-salary DB plan, which means that employee and employer contributions should be sufficient to pre-fund the employee's pension. As Louisiana has a multi-tier pension system, contributions that exceed the normal cost may be used to fund other teachers' benefits (so-called legacy costs). Louisiana, however, does not provide teachers with clear information about how their contributions are being used, including the extent to which current employer contributions are being used to subsidize the retirement benefits of teachers under other tiers as well as how benefits are distributed across teachers of different cohorts and teachers with different career lengths.

Public disclosures on teacher pensions in Louisiana also lack transparency. Louisiana does not report projections for future contributions required to fully amortize the system's total unfunded liabilities, information that would allow policymakers and employers to better plan their budgets in the short and longer terms. These projections should be reported under a range of assumptions about the rate of return on investments, not just under the system's own assumption, which would allow stakeholders in Louisiana to appropriately assign risk to the system's obligations and provide clarity about potential unfunded liabilities facing taxpayers.

The Government Accountability Standards Board (GASB) requires public retirement systems to disclose who makes employer contributions, and the proportion of total contributions for which each contributor is responsible. All states' pension systems collect this information, and Louisiana makes these data readily available.

Louisiana, like most states, reports the portion of total pension contributions that is normal cost and the proportion that is amortization cost. However, the state does not report information about whether it has taken on debt in order to pay for current or future retiree benefits (e.g. through pension obligation bonds or other instruments for raising capital). Even if the state has not taken on debt, it should disclose this information to the public as it is an important indicator of the state's overall health and stability.

Citation

Recommendations for Louisiana

Provide teachers with the information necessary to understand their retirement benefits.
Louisiana should provide much more detailed information to teachers about how their benefits accrue at different points during their careers, as well as information about the opportunity costs related to any contributions made into the system. The plan should also disclose to teachers how their contributions are being used (i.e. whether they all are directed at prefunding their own retirement, or whether a portion of their contributions are used to help pay for retirement benefits of other members). Moreover, Louisiana could provide detailed information about how employer contributions are used - e.g. to what extent the employer contributions for an individual teacher are used to subsidize teachers in different tiers and teachers with different tenure.

Report to policymakers and the public data that give a complete representation of the system's financial health.
Louisiana should also report projections for future contributions necessary to pay off its unfunded liabilities under a range of assumptions about its discount rate. Finally, the state should disclose in its reports whether or not the system has taken debt service to pay for retirement benefits.

State response to our analysis

Louisiana responded that TRSL's funding structure is actuarially-based and the system is financially sustainable. Annually, the TRSL actuary determines the funding requirements needed to meet current and future benefit obligations. Actuarial contributions are based on normal cost and amortization of the unfunded accrued liability (UAL) existing since the system's inception.

The state continued that from the annual actuarial valuation provided on TRSL's website, the public can view the amount of funding required to meet the cost of benefits and amortized payments to the debt. The amount and percentage breakdown for the total normal cost are included. The valuation also provides dollar amounts for legislatively-mandated funding requirements including the employee contributions and employer contributions. Those figures can be compared to the amounts paid in the two previous consecutive years in each annual valuation.

As part of the Pension Accounting & Financial Disclosures section of the actuarial valuation, employers can review the sensitivity of the net pension liability to changes in the discount rate. The pension liability is shown as it relates to the current discount rate, and it is calculated using a discount rate that is 1% higher and 1% lower.

Each year, TRSL's actuary provides a UAL Outstanding Balance and Payment Schedule in the actuarial valuation which shows the projected outstanding balance and total amortized payment from the current year to the required payoff date.

With regard to information provided to our members, they are given a wealth of information in their annual Member Account Statement. The statement provides the member's annual contributions as well as his/her total contributions as of the end of the fiscal year. The statement provides information about service credit and contributions such as an explanation of service credit for benefit computation and eligibility, the different kinds of retirement options, eligibility requirements, personalized projected retirement eligibility, and a benefit estimate for regular retirement or early retirement.

Member Access online accounts provide members with secure, online access to review their contributions, service credit, and Member Account Statement at any time. Through TRSL's website, members can access TRSL's online benefit calculator and numerous brochures and handbooks on various types of retirement and retirement options.

Additionally, TRSL offers numerous opportunities for members to learn about their benefit and retirement options. Monthly individual phone counseling sessions and webinars on different retirement topics are available. Members can attend workshops across the state and receive personalized benefit estimates as well as educational materials. Members can meet with a retirement benefit analyst to discuss their retirement benefit and options anytime during regular business hours.

Last word

Louisiana's response indicates the state has a commitment to providing the public and teachers with information about the retirement system. The recommendations offered would allow the state to provide even more meaningful and useful data to decision makers and future retirees. While the state has numerous options and opportunities available for teachers should they pursue them, it would be much more beneficial in helping teachers to be knowledgeable and informed if information were provided to them without their having to pursue it.