Public Pension Governance and Opportunistic Accounting Choice: A Politico-Economic Approach

Source: Odd J. Stalebrink, Pierre Donatella, The American Review of Public Administration, Volume: 51 issue: 3, April 2021
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From the abstract:
The selection of actuarial assumptions used to value state and local government pension liabilities is an important culprit of the looming state and local pension crisis in the U.S. Due to the impact these selection choices have on the value of pension liabilities and annual required contributions (ARC), pension plans are often said to make these choices opportunistically for purposes of freeing up budget resources and making pension funding look better. Using empirical data on 114 state-administered pension plans, this research shows that the likelihood of such opportunistic pension accounting choices (OPAC) increases when the plan is underfunded, organized as a cost-sharing plan, governed by a politically embedded fiduciary body, and when the sponsoring government is surrounded by a high degree of unionization, and is divided in terms of partisan control. The results also show that the likelihood of OPAC decreases when a pension plan is subjected to an audit by a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), suggesting that professional gatekeepers can play an important role in limiting the adverse effects of OPAC behavior, including insufficient ARC payments and reduced transparency of governmental financial reports.