Public pension shocker: Shutting a pension plan actually costs taxpayers money – LA Times

Michael Hiltzik – LOS ANGELES TIMES

Amid the nationwide panic over the rising costs of public employee pensions, one proposed solution is nearly universal: States and municipalities should shutter their traditional defined benefit plans and place all new employees in a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan instead.

That’s the idea in a proposed California ballot initiative we reported on last week. The measure, which would end defined benefit plans for new employees as of Jan. 1, 2019, was praised by the Wall Street Journal as one that would “end defined-benefit pensions and save taxpayers billions of dollars.”

As it turns out, the Journal — and the drafters of the initiative — have the math exactly wrong. The experience of states that did exactly that shows that taking these steps sharply increases pension costs to taxpayers while providing employees with markedly poorer retirement benefits.
The evidence comes from a study by the National Institute on Retirement Security, whose board and advisors comprise officials of public pension agencies and leading academic experts on pension economics. The study examined the experience of West Virginia, Michigan and Alaska, each of which responded to rapidly rising unfunded liabilities in their defined benefit public pension funds by closing those plans and placing new employees in defined contribution plans. read more……