Pension Transparency: Texas

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: Texas results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/TX-Pension-Transparency-74

Analysis of Texas'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. It is unclear what information, if any, Texas provides to teachers about their retirement benefits. No evidence could be found on the retirement system's website that Texas provides 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%), nor that the state provides 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 Texas 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 Texas has a multi-tier pension system, contributions that exceed the normal cost may be used to fund other teachers' benefits (so-called legacy costs). There is no evidence, however, that Texas provides 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.

If Texas does share any of this information with teachers, the fact that it does so is hidden from public view.

Public disclosures on teacher pensions in Texas also lack transparency. Texas 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 Texas 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 Texas makes these data readily available.

Texas, 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 Texas

Provide teachers with the information necessary to understand their retirement benefits.
Texas 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. Because the system has multiple tiers, 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, Texas 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. If Texas does in fact share any of this information with teachers, it should share with policymakers and the public a template for the data that are provided.

Report to policymakers and the public data that give a complete representation of the system's financial health.
Texas 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

Texas indicated that it does provide retirement system funding projections under different discount rates. The state also noted that there is no need to provide information about debt service, because no pension obligation bonds have been taken. Regarding information provided to teachers, "once a member meets early retirement age, they have an estimate on the annual statement." In addition, If a member is vested and applies for a refund, they will receive an estimate of what the member's monthly benefit could be if they do not withdraw their funds, as well as, the estimated amount of money they would receive over their life time if they choose to receive a monthly benefit. Before any refund can be issued, form TRS 287 must be signed and returned to TRS.

Last word

While the state does report projected value of assets, it does not report what the future funding requirements will be. As to debt service, it would be helpful to decision makers and the public if the state disclosed that no pension obligation bonds have been taken. In terms of information provided to teachers, the state does not make public and did not share a sample of the statement provided to teachers.