Seattle should follow state's lead in reining in overly generous pensions
With Seattle city employees' pension fund already $1 billion in the hole, the city should trim its pension benefits to ensure the fund's sustainability going forward.
Seattle Times Editorial
NOW that the state Legislature has trimmed overly generous pension benefits for new state employees, the Seattle City Council faces the same decision for city employees.
The matter is even more urgent. The state's open pension plans are fully funded; the financial problem in Olympia was the cost of keeping them funded. The Seattle employees' pension fund is already $1 billion underfunded. Furthermore, pensions already take 10 percent of city employees' salaries, which makes it difficult to fill the hole by withholding more from paychecks.
All this is laid out in "Options for a Sustainable Retirement Benefit," a report issued by the city April 9. As part of the report, consulting actuaries Gabriel, Roeder, Smith & Co. outlined five options for the city to save at least $1.1 billion over the next 25 years. All involve promising new employees pensions that are considerably less generous than those promised to today's employees.
It is clear from the report that this has to be done, and that there is room to do it. The report compares Seattle's high-benefit plan to the state's PERS 1 plan, which was closed in 1977 because it was too expensive.
As with state pensions, the Seattle pensions give early retirees benefits much more generous than they have earned. Many city employees "retire with full benefits while still in their 50s," the report says. With today's extended life spans, it is quite possible for a city employee to work for 30 years and collect a full pension for another 30 years.
This is a fine benefit, but most taxpayers will never have such a benefit themselves. That is a fairness problem.
The immediate financial problem has arisen because Seattle's fund fell 30 percent in the crash of 2008-2009. The market has mostly recovered and the fund has mostly not, which suggests that the loss has to be made up another way.
The obvious way is to reduce future expenses.