LJAF believes all those who have dedicated their lives to public service deserve a fair and secure retirement. Teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public workers need to know that the money they have rightfully earned will be there when they retire. Yet, many pension systems, which are supposed to protect workers’ long-term financial security, are now putting their retirement at risk. In addition, these broken systems are threatening the fiscal health of many communities. Rising pension debt is forcing cities and states to direct money away from critical public services such as schools and policing.
The problem stems from the fact that many governments have failed to make the annual required contribution to their pension system. This chronic underfunding has caused the debt to increase dramatically. Pension debt has more than quintupled in the past decade and is now larger than ever before. Conservative estimates show cities and states currently owe workers more than a trillion dollars for retirement benefits they have already earned. This fiscal pressure has forced 48 states to cut pension benefits, and has prompted many jurisdictions to implement wage freezes and eliminate public sector jobs. In the most extreme cases, pension debt has helped push cities into bankruptcy. In many instances, however, such a crisis can be avoided.
We work with jurisdictions to help them assess the true magnitude of their pension problems and analyze structural reforms that would protect workers and taxpayers. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. A variety of pension plan designs including defined benefit, defined contribution, and hybrid can be tailored to create a retirement system that is affordable, lasting, and fair to all parties. Responsible pension reform should include a plan to pay down the pension debt as quickly as possible and should require governments to pay their pension bill in full every year.
LJAF commissions research, conducts transparency initiatives, and helps governments analyze proposed reforms. We have provided technical assistance to more than 50 cities and states across the nation. In addition, we maintain the Pension Litigation Tracker, a website that provides a comprehensive overview of public pension reform litigation in the United States. The site outlines developments in pension reform lawsuits and serves as a resource for individuals to access official court documents and view information about ongoing court proceedings and final decisions.