Province ponders pension options

Rob Antle
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FINANCE

The provincial government is waiting to receive a series of valuations and reports from consultants before deciding what actions, if any, to take on its employee pension plans.

Options include additional funding for the plans, reducing benefits, or increasing premiums, according to Finance Minister Tom Marshall.

Tom Marshall

The provincial government is waiting to receive a series of valuations and reports from consultants before deciding what actions, if any, to take on its employee pension plans.

Options include additional funding for the plans, reducing benefits, or increasing premiums, according to Finance Minister Tom Marshall.

The review includes not only the pension plans themselves, but also other financial liabilities associated with retired workers.

Those liabilities - related to health and life insurance benefits for retirees - have spiked dramatically in recent years.

"The whole pensions issue is, I think, going to be taking a lot of our attention," Marshall said

According to Department of Finance officials, any changes to premiums and benefits in the Teachers' Pension Plan would be done in agreement between both parties.

Under the Public Service Pension Plan and the Uniformed Services Pension Plan, the collective agreements do not provide an obligation for government to consult on premiums and benefits.

Marshall stressed the unions have representatives on the board that manages Newfoundland and Labrador's pooled pension fund, and will be consulted.

Nearly 24,000 pensioners are receiving benefits from one of the government's six plans.

According to figures provided by Marshall, the global economic crisis lopped off nearly one-third of the value of the province's pooled pension fund - to $4.6 billion in February 2009 from a high of $6.7 billion at the end of 2007.

But that number has since recovered, back up to $5.9 billion.

That includes a $100-million cash infusion into the Uniformed Services Pension Plan.

"So it's coming back," Marshall told The Telegram. "It's not back to where it was, but it's definitely come back a long ways since the meltdown."

This year, the province is having new valuations done by actuaries of all provincial pension funds. That is a standard process every three years, Marshall said.

Briefing notes provided to Marshall last fall - and obtained by The Telegram under access-to-information laws - gave updates on the status of the plans.

Most of that information was blacked out on copies provided to the newspaper, because it would reveal advice to the minister and actions being considered by cabinet.

Marshall said nothing is going to happen until those actuarial reports are in the government's hands.

"We would defer any decision-making until we saw the new valuations," the minster noted.

The government has also hired consultants to look at health plan and group life insurance benefits for retirees.

According to the public accounts, those liabilities have spiked 66 per cent in the past six years, to more than $1.6 billion.

Combined, unfunded pension shortfalls and those other retirement benefits represent a $3.3 billion liability on the province's books.

Newfoundland and Labrador's total net debt in 2009 was a shade under $8 billion.

"These two unfunded liabilities are something that obviously we look at," Marshall said.

He said Newfoundland and Labrador officials are discussing pension-related issues with other provinces, which are facing similar concerns.

The pension liabilities would be much worse if it wasn't for the Williams administration's decision to make $3 billion in special payments to the funds over the past number of years.

Those payments include the $2-billion advance from the 2005 Atlantic Accord funneled into the Teachers' Pension Plan.

rantle@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Uniformed Services Pension Plan, Department of Finance, The Telegram Public Service Pension Plan

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • JohnL
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    To Aubrey and concerned taxpayer:
    I have a rigjht to comment if taxpayer's money is been used to pump up pensions. I have worked for 37 years and I am in an a RRSP employer/ employee pension plan for 22 years and the plan over the 22 years has an increase of approx. 7.2% compounded.
    As I stated the govermment should no be in the running of pensions planns and if money is due to employees for past years ,then this money should be given to the employees through NAPE,NTA etc. and let them decide how to run the pension plan(s).
    Take a look at the Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan on their website and if advise is required , then I am sure they would oblige. As I stated goverments are to govern , not to run pension plans.

  • Heather
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Concerned taxpayer - you must be a civil servant. Govt employees don't 'dedicate' themselves to their jobs - they watch clocks, take personal days to the max, complain about working conditions and pay, and count the days to retirement. Oh and by the way I was a Govt employee for many years.

  • wayne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    For decades each provincial government, (Liberal and Conservative alike) dumped pension funds into general revenue and used it to fund, roads, water & sewer, make work projects and the like. Staff were never given an option to take their contributions and use them to fund their own RRSPs. There was never any option to opt out of the plan. Now the chickens have come home to roost . I agree that something must be done, but is entirely unethical to tamper with the pensions of people who never had any option but to pay into the plan and had no input into how the funds were wasted. By all means, modify the plan for new employees but they should not reduce benefits for people who have been paying into plans for decades.

  • JohnL
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    The government should not be in the business of running pensions. All pension payments should be turned over to NAPE,NTA, etc. and let them handle the pensions, They can do as individual groups or get together and have one massive pension. The taxpayers should not be liable for any pension shortfalls or for that matter any gains in pensions.
    GOVERNMENT: GET OUT OF RUNNING PENSION PLANS.

  • well
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    JohnL well now this is our lovely goverment , just as well let the screw up the pentions , the screw up everything else

  • Townie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    This idea of people Paying thier way when it comes to the public sector is a growing international trend, according to The Economist magazine. It seems more and more taxpayers are taking exception to having to subsidize public sector workers pensions. 80% of us working today have no pension plan. If teachers and other govt workers want a pension, then they have to start paying thier way.
    As for MHA pensions, yes, they should be fully funded 100% by the members themselves, and not the taxpayer. Also, we should cut the number of skeats (ie MHAs) to about 15-20 for the entire province.

  • G.AR
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    The Gov't. is not obligated to consult regarding the pension premiums and benefits of the 24,000 Public Service Pensioners ? So what else is new ? Previous Governments didn't consult when they used workers' pension contributions to construct roads, bridges and buildings. They also didn't consult when they gave themselves raises and bonuses behind closed doors.
    Tom Marshall doesn't have to spell it out for the 24,000 Public Service Pensioners because they know what's coming next. They can expect a letter, in due course, informing them that either their premiums have gone through the roof or their benefits have been drastically reduced. Mr. Marshall doesn't express any concern for the many pensioners living below the poverty line and the effect such action will have on these people. Then again, one can hardly expect people with six figure salaries and gold plated pensions to identify with the plight of these pensioners.

  • Chris
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    ''Options include additional funding for the plans, reducing benefits, or increasing premiums.''

    Why do I have the feeling that of those three options, the last two reducing benefits and increasing premiums is the path the government will choose. The consultants report (if we are allowed to see it) will only rubber stamp a decision that already been made.

  • Taxpayer ll
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Yes, thank God the Liberals are not still in there spending money like there is no tomorrow. You would never see a liberal gov. have the balls to spend 3 billion to pay down on pensions, it would never happen.

  • joannl
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    so the 2 billion dollars Danny put in the teachers fund ,from our oil money is Puff gone..That was real smart.I'm surprised he didn't just put it in a VLT machine--would have been the same

  • Mark
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Taxpayer - if you look up the Main Estimates of the past several years you might be forced to reconsider who is 'spending like there is no tomorrow'. Hint - it's not the previous government.

  • Susan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    I have a novel idea. Maybe the people sitting in the House of Assembly should start paying contributions to the pension plan. I'd be interested in knowing how much money the taxpayers are on the hook for retired politicians. Their pension plan is a hell of a lot better than the average person and they don't pay any contributions.

  • concerned taxpayer
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    Re: JOHNL , You are obviously not working for the provincial govt. Public employees dedicate years of service to the province and pay in their money to get their pensions. You have no business commenting on their pensions when you never worked for it or payed into it for 30 plus yrs. Some people are just jealous! I have no problem with them getting the benefits they payed into for years.

  • nipper
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    Way to go JohnL. These defined benefit plans are nothing more than taxpayer funded ponzi schemes Pay in less than 1 years salary, retire at 50, with full pension for the rest of your life. Figure that one out!!??

  • aubrey
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    Yes, John, rob the teachers blind while their plan was book( sic0 solvent for decades , ask them to contribute to the failure to top it up in the 1990's , push them into quick retirement with threats of destacking in 1998 and now abandon them in advanced age to the whims of the recently- crashed market place .

  • JohnL
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    To Aubrey and concerned taxpayer:
    I have a rigjht to comment if taxpayer's money is been used to pump up pensions. I have worked for 37 years and I am in an a RRSP employer/ employee pension plan for 22 years and the plan over the 22 years has an increase of approx. 7.2% compounded.
    As I stated the govermment should no be in the running of pensions planns and if money is due to employees for past years ,then this money should be given to the employees through NAPE,NTA etc. and let them decide how to run the pension plan(s).
    Take a look at the Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan on their website and if advise is required , then I am sure they would oblige. As I stated goverments are to govern , not to run pension plans.

  • Heather
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Concerned taxpayer - you must be a civil servant. Govt employees don't 'dedicate' themselves to their jobs - they watch clocks, take personal days to the max, complain about working conditions and pay, and count the days to retirement. Oh and by the way I was a Govt employee for many years.

  • wayne
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    For decades each provincial government, (Liberal and Conservative alike) dumped pension funds into general revenue and used it to fund, roads, water & sewer, make work projects and the like. Staff were never given an option to take their contributions and use them to fund their own RRSPs. There was never any option to opt out of the plan. Now the chickens have come home to roost . I agree that something must be done, but is entirely unethical to tamper with the pensions of people who never had any option but to pay into the plan and had no input into how the funds were wasted. By all means, modify the plan for new employees but they should not reduce benefits for people who have been paying into plans for decades.

  • JohnL
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    The government should not be in the business of running pensions. All pension payments should be turned over to NAPE,NTA, etc. and let them handle the pensions, They can do as individual groups or get together and have one massive pension. The taxpayers should not be liable for any pension shortfalls or for that matter any gains in pensions.
    GOVERNMENT: GET OUT OF RUNNING PENSION PLANS.

  • well
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    JohnL well now this is our lovely goverment , just as well let the screw up the pentions , the screw up everything else

  • Townie
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    This idea of people Paying thier way when it comes to the public sector is a growing international trend, according to The Economist magazine. It seems more and more taxpayers are taking exception to having to subsidize public sector workers pensions. 80% of us working today have no pension plan. If teachers and other govt workers want a pension, then they have to start paying thier way.
    As for MHA pensions, yes, they should be fully funded 100% by the members themselves, and not the taxpayer. Also, we should cut the number of skeats (ie MHAs) to about 15-20 for the entire province.

  • G.AR
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    The Gov't. is not obligated to consult regarding the pension premiums and benefits of the 24,000 Public Service Pensioners ? So what else is new ? Previous Governments didn't consult when they used workers' pension contributions to construct roads, bridges and buildings. They also didn't consult when they gave themselves raises and bonuses behind closed doors.
    Tom Marshall doesn't have to spell it out for the 24,000 Public Service Pensioners because they know what's coming next. They can expect a letter, in due course, informing them that either their premiums have gone through the roof or their benefits have been drastically reduced. Mr. Marshall doesn't express any concern for the many pensioners living below the poverty line and the effect such action will have on these people. Then again, one can hardly expect people with six figure salaries and gold plated pensions to identify with the plight of these pensioners.

  • Chris
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    ''Options include additional funding for the plans, reducing benefits, or increasing premiums.''

    Why do I have the feeling that of those three options, the last two reducing benefits and increasing premiums is the path the government will choose. The consultants report (if we are allowed to see it) will only rubber stamp a decision that already been made.

  • Taxpayer ll
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    Yes, thank God the Liberals are not still in there spending money like there is no tomorrow. You would never see a liberal gov. have the balls to spend 3 billion to pay down on pensions, it would never happen.

  • joannl
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    so the 2 billion dollars Danny put in the teachers fund ,from our oil money is Puff gone..That was real smart.I'm surprised he didn't just put it in a VLT machine--would have been the same

  • Mark
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    Taxpayer - if you look up the Main Estimates of the past several years you might be forced to reconsider who is 'spending like there is no tomorrow'. Hint - it's not the previous government.

  • Susan
    July 01, 2010 - 19:52

    I have a novel idea. Maybe the people sitting in the House of Assembly should start paying contributions to the pension plan. I'd be interested in knowing how much money the taxpayers are on the hook for retired politicians. Their pension plan is a hell of a lot better than the average person and they don't pay any contributions.

  • concerned taxpayer
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    Re: JOHNL , You are obviously not working for the provincial govt. Public employees dedicate years of service to the province and pay in their money to get their pensions. You have no business commenting on their pensions when you never worked for it or payed into it for 30 plus yrs. Some people are just jealous! I have no problem with them getting the benefits they payed into for years.

  • nipper
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    Way to go JohnL. These defined benefit plans are nothing more than taxpayer funded ponzi schemes Pay in less than 1 years salary, retire at 50, with full pension for the rest of your life. Figure that one out!!??

  • aubrey
    July 01, 2010 - 19:43

    Yes, John, rob the teachers blind while their plan was book( sic0 solvent for decades , ask them to contribute to the failure to top it up in the 1990's , push them into quick retirement with threats of destacking in 1998 and now abandon them in advanced age to the whims of the recently- crashed market place .