A Local Government Practitioner's View of the Sustainability of Defined-Benefit Pension Plans

Source: Ian M. Coyle, Public Administration Review, Volume 72, Issue 6, November/December 2012
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As a county administrator dealing every day with the aftereffects of spikes in pension obligation expenses, I welcome the debate called for in New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s PAR Perspective, “Retirement Security for Americans and the Role of Defined-Benefit Pension Plans” (July/August 2012).

Although Comptroller DiNapoli makes a call for the protection of defined-benefit pension plans and sounds the warning bell against 401(k)-style plans–and defines this as the singular pension issue of news accounts on the sustainability of public pensions–I believe that the financial obligations themselves, imposed on local government as a state-directed mandate in New York and countless other states, is the crucial issue for public officials and should be the central question that shapes the debate on public pension systems…..I contend that the core issue is not the fiscal health of public pension systems, but the sustainability of those local governments that fund obligations with taxpayer dollars.

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