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Legislative analysts declare Florida's pension fund fiscally sound

Florida's pension fund is "better funded, incurs lower investment fees and...investment returns are average" compared to other states, according to a new report from the Legislature's policy assessment arm, OPPAGA.

The results conflict with the suggestion by Gov. Rick Scott that the Florida Retirement System is "underfunded."  In fact, the report says, the plan is 87.9 percent funded as of June 30, 2010 -- with a 13.1 percent unfunded liability. That was 10th highest in the nation in 2008-09, according to the report.

"The Pension Plan's funding ratio (i.e., the ratio of the actuarial value of the plan’s assets to the actuarial value of benefits owed to members and their beneficiaries) was 87.9%," the report said. "This means that at this time, the plan does not have sufficient assets needed to pay current and future expected benefits for participants and their beneficiaries. Actuarially, the plan has a shortfall of $16.7 billion. However, experts generally consider public pension plans with funding ratios at or above 80% to be fiscally sound."

The report notes that under actuarial rules, the state has 30 years to make up the shortfall through investment earnings. In his campaign for governor, Scott ran ads claiming that the fund had lost $24 billion. At the time he ran the ads, the fund had recovered all but $6 billion as a result of the Wall Street collapse, and has since restored almost all of its 2007 value, which the governor used as a benchmark.  

Other findings from the report:

* State Board of Administration (SBA) managers have consistently met investment goals for both the Florida Retirement System Pension Plan and Investment Plan, but the SBA’s results are average compared to the investment performance of other states. 

* The SBA’s three-member board of trustees is smaller than the oversight boards of almost all other states.  The SBA has procedures in place for overseeing its investment managers.  However, the SBA and the Division of Retirement could improve their reporting on state pension plans by developing a single annual report that provides policymakers with comprehensive financial, investment, actuarial, and statistical information.