First look: public pensions in Connecticut

We will be hearing about pensions, pension reform and how pension liabilities are taking over the state budget during the year, so it might be worth having a look at how things look right now.

Truth is, the Connecticut public pension system is a mess. For many years the state had the habit of balancing the budget by not putting money into the pension fund while giving early retirement incentives to many state workers. This went on for more than a decade, leaving a gaping hole in the system.

To the legislature and Malloy´s credit, the state stopped doing this a few years ago, finally starting to put money back in the fund. The problem is, however, that under the current payment and amortization schedule (let’s pretend we understand we know what that means for a second) the state has to make a huge financial effort to plug that gap, and even more worrisome, we have to set aside more and more money every year.

How much? The figures come from this study from the Comptroller’s office – in 2016 Connecticut’s contribution to its pension fund was about $1.5 billion. This will climb to about $1.8 billion in 2017, $2 billion in 2019 and will keep climbing non-stop all the way to 2032, when it will get close to $4 billion. Adjusting for inflation the numbers get a bit less daunting (up to $2.5 billion), but the problem remains – in a roughly $20 billion budget, the pensions are indeed a problem.

This is not sustainable, so we will be hearing more reform proposals in the coming weeks. Kevin Lembo, the Comptroller, just presented his ( PPT ), giving a good outlook of what we can expect to see. His proposal tweaks the amortization method and extends its schedule (translation: changes how inflation is calculated and adds more years to pay for the liabilities) to change the payment structure. The result would be a payment of $1.5B in 2016, $2B in 2017, $2.15B in 2018 and then remain pretty much flat in nominal terms until 2032 (that is, dropping, inflation-adjusted), where they would drop to $1.5 billion.

If you stopped reading halfway through the previous paragraph, I understand completely: this is not exactly fun. It also is really important for the fiscal health of our state in the long run, so we will try to do our best to explain what is going on. Public pensions might not be our agenda, but they greatly affect the rest of the budget, so we will keep track.