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Moore: RI Should Transfer the Lottery to the Pension Fund

Monday, May 22, 2017

 

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie proposed an innovative and intriguing idea last week to help bolster his state’s foundering pension fund.

The plan would transfer ownership and control of the state’s lottery to its pension fund. The transfer, assuming the plan is affirmed by the state’s legislature, would reduce the state’s unfunded liability by roughly $13.5 billion, according to Pensions & Investments. The plan would also see an increase in contributions of $37 billion to the pension plan from the lottery revenue.

The immediate reaction of some folks, upon hearing this plan, would be surprise that the state would be willing to turn over a lucrative source of revenue away from the state budget, and into the pension plan.

But money is fungible. And pension plans can most easily be compared to a three-legged stool.

The market returns from the fund’s investment make up one leg of thee stool. This is rather unpredictable, particularly on a year to year basis.

A Rational, Innovative Plan

The second leg of the stool are employee contributions. That’s a predictable source of revenue, but it doesn’t cover the cost of maintaining the fund.

Taxpayer contributions comprise the last leg of the stool. This is the largest variable in the equation. When the market returns are weak, the taxpayers are counted on to keep the fund solvent and running smoothly to make sure the retirees are seeing their pensions funded.

So it stands to reason, that when the going gets tough, the state’s revenue gets sent over to the pension fund. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if those dollars are coming from the state lottery, or tax collections, or federal aid, etc.

Therefore, if the state decided to place the lottery under the control of the state pension fund, it would not make much of a difference to the state budget.

Given these facts, the state of Rhode Island ought to consider placing ownership of the state’s lottery under the control of its pension plan.

Taking into Account

The big benefit to the pension fund, however has to do with the accounting of the asset. The state lottery could technically be privatized and sold to some white shoe, Wall Street firm. That firm would then turn around and hire a management company to administer the lottery, and the proceeds would go to the company.

What all of this means is to say that the state lottery has value. That value would then be counted as part of the pension fund’s assets--which would, in turn, lower the unfunded liability of the fund.

At the end of last year, the state pension fund’s plan for teachers was funded at roughly 58 percent and its plan for state workers was funded at about 56 percent. (That number may have slightly increased this year thanks to the stock market rally.) That means if everyone who has earned benefits demanded them now, the plan would be able to meet 58 and 56 percent of its obligations.

Adding a massive asset (and it would take a valuation and study to assess its actual market value) to the pension plan’s portfolio would significantly reduce the fund’s liabilities. And there doesn’t appear that to be any actual drawback to the state’s finances, since although the state would lose that asset (on paper), it would mean the state wouldn’t have to put as much money into the system on a yearly basis to keep it afloat.

The state could also transfer ownership of the Narragansett Bay Commission to the control of the state pension fund as well, and reap similar benefits.

Innovative Thinking

Providence could also take advantage of this innovative, outside-the-box style thinking.

There’s been some talk about potentially selling Providence Water in an attempt to help shore up the capital city’s finances. Instead, the state should consider transferring control and ownership of the system to the pension fund, which would bolster that fund’s financial health and stability.

Given the massive upside and very few, if any, drawbacks to this plan, envisioned by Christie, the state of Rhode Island should start taking a long, hard look at the charting a similar course of action.

Russell Moore has worked on both sides of the desk in Rhode Island media, both for newspapers and on political campaigns. Send him email at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter @russmoore713.

 

Related Slideshow: 11 RI Retirees Who Had Pensions Suspended

Below are the members of the state retirement system who had their benefits suspended at least once between 2009 and 2014 for working beyond the 75 days allowed each year in retirement. Retirees are listed in chronological order. Retirees who had benefits suspended more than once are listed each time there was a suspension. Source: state records provided in response to a public records request. 

Prev Next

Pasquales Sorvillo

Retirement

Retired From: Cranston School Department

Year Retired: 2007

Current Annual Pension: $6,517

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: City of Cranston

Pension Suspended: November 2009

Days over 75-Day Limit: 106

Prev Next

Eugene Jeffers

Retirement

Retired From: Pawtucket School Department

Year Retired: 1997

Current Annual Pension: $37,721

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: Town of Cumberland

Pension Suspended: 2009

Days over 75-Day Limit: 6.5 

Prev Next

Ellen Bennett

Retirement

Retired From: Not available

Year Retired: Not available

Current Annual Pension: Not available

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: City of Cranston

Pension Suspended: 2009

Days over 75-Day Limit: 3 

Prev Next

Paul Casto

Retirement

Retired From: City of Central Falls

Year Retired: 2000

Current Annual Pension: $5,566

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: Town of West Greenwich

Pension Suspended: Before June 2010

Days over 75-Day Limit: *Not available

*State records did not indicate the number of days over the limit. 

Prev Next

Louis Lanni

Retirement

Retired From: North Providence School Department

Year Retired: 2004

Current Annual Pension: $43,566

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: North Providence

Pension Suspended: 2009

Days over 75-Day Limit: 5

Prev Next

Paul Casto

Retirement

Retired From: City of Central Falls

Year Retired: 2000

Current Annual Pension: $5,566

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: Town of West Greenwich

Pension Suspended: Before June 2010

Days over 75-Day Limit: 17

Prev Next

Eugene Jeffers

Retirement

Retired From: Pawtucket School Department

Year Retired: 1997

Current Annual Pension: $37,721

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: Town of Cumberland

Pension Suspended: June 2010

Days over 75-Day Limit: 6

Pension Was Also Suspended in 2009

Prev Next

Joel Matthews

Retirement

Retired From: Woonsocket

Year Retired: Not available

Current Annual Pension: Not available

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: City of Woonsocket

Pension Suspended: October to December 2010.

Note: Matthews’ suspension was initially suspended after he began working three days after his retirement in May 2010. Over the course of the year he reached 75 days but state records do not indicate how far over he went. 

Prev Next

Paul Labbadia

Retirement

Retired From: North Providence Fire Department

Year Retired: 2007

Current Annual Pension: Canceled*

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: Coventry Fire District (fire chief)

Pension Suspended: 2011

Days over 75-Day Limit: 115

*Last month, the state announced that the pension for Labbadia had been permanently canceled after it was found that he did not log in enough years of service as a North Providence firefighter. 

Prev Next

Makram Megalli

Retirement

Retired From: Woonsocket School Department

Year Retired: 2000

Current Annual Pension: $7,192

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: North Providence and Johnston

Pension Suspended: 2011

Days over 75-Day Limit: 43.5

Prev Next

William Ziehl

Retirement

Retired From: Not available

Year Retired: Not available

Current Annual Pension: Not available

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: Town of Foster

Pension Suspended: August 2013

Days over 75-Day Limit: *Not available

*State records only indicate that Ziehl worked beyond 75 days but do not specify how many days he was over. 

Prev Next

Joseph Rendine

Retirement

Retired From: Town of North Providence

Year Retired: 2001

Current Annual Pension: $23,146

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: Town of North Providence

Pension Suspended: June 2014

Days over 75-Day Limit: 4.5

Prev Next

Eugene Jeffers

Retirement

Retired From: Pawtucket School Department

Year Retired: 1997

Current Annual Pension: $37,721

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: Town of Cumberland

Pension Suspended: September 2014

Days over 75-Day Limit: 3

Pension Was Also Suspended in 2009 and 2010

Prev Next

William Ziehl

Retirement

Retired From: Not available

Year Retired: Not available

Current Annual Pension: Not available

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: Town of Foster

Pension Suspended: 2014

Days over 75-Day Limit: 2.5

Pension Was Also Suspended in 2013

Prev Next

Leon Drury

Retirement

Retired From: Not available

Year Retired: Not available

Current Annual Pension: Not available

 

Post-Retirement Employment

Employer: Town of Cumberland

Pension Suspended: June 2014

Days over 75-Day Limit: *Not available

*State records only indicate that Drury worked beyond 75 days but do not specify how many days he was over. 

 
 

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