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Taxpayers contributed $300 million, state employees $185 million to Idaho pension plan

Taxpayers contributed $300 million, state employees $185 million to Idaho pension plan

Wayne Hoffman
May 13, 2014

Few people talk about it, especially Idaho’s legislators, but last year Idaho’s pension system cost taxpayers $300 million and government employees $185 million. And, generally speaking, that amount of money isn’t enough to maintain the system, which is why the amount of money contributed by taxpayers and employees had to be increased. Wondering why your local school district wants more of your money so badly? This is part of the reason.

How much money do you think you need to retire? It’s a great question that I see numerous TV commercials try to answer—or at least encourage Americans to be better prepared, and better funded, by the time they reach retirement age.

A project of our friends at the Manhattan Institute takes the question a step further. On the institute’s publicsectorinc.org website, a calculator will help you find out how much an Idaho government employee will get in retirement, and how much your lifetime annuity would have to be in order to garner a comparable retirement.

For kicks, I took a 50-year-old police officer with 30 years of service. Yes, it is still possible for some public employees to retire at age 50 in Idaho. That 50-year-old police officer, assuming he or she earned $75,000 in the years leading up to retirement, would receive an annual pension of $51,750. How much money would you need in your retirement account to be similarly situated? About $1.2 million, says the website.

The website offers another interesting pension calculation tool. You can use it to figure out just how Idaho’s public pension compares to similar programs in other states. In the retirement example I have provided—a police officer retiring at age 50—has better retirement benefits in Idaho than Oregon and Washington, where the annual pension would be $45,000, but worse in Montana, Nevada and Wyoming, where the annual benefit would be about $56,000. In Utah, the annual benefit calculates out to $52,000, quite comparable to Idaho.

The website is certainly fun to play with, at least for people who like numbers. And even if spreadsheets and formulas and actuarial tables aren’t your thing, the website gets to the heart of important questions about Idaho’s pension system, with which state lawmakers and the governor seem quite content.

States, local governments and businesses across the country are re-evaluating their use of traditional pension systems. Some are outright abandoning pension programs because of their high cost, volatility and rigidity.

Boeing is the latest to ditch the company’s pension in favor a less expensive but still lucrative 401k plan. In January, Boeing machinists narrowly voted to join the new retirement plan. Staying with the pension system would have cost jobs tied to the development of the 777X jetliner, the company said.

Retirement plan changes “reduce risk, ensure the health of our balance sheet and enhance competitive position, all while providing employees with attractive and competitive benefits and driving long-term shareholder value,” Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said.

The point of this commentary isn’t to harp on Idaho’s pension system. Rather, it’s to highlight another tool Idahoans can use to evaluate the current system. At minimum, it will help answer questions that should have been asked by Idaho elected officials long ago.

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