Determinants of local government pension funding: Empirical evidence from Florida

Clifford Peter McCue, Florida International University


The financial community is well aware that continued underfunding of state and local government pension plans poses many public policy and fiduciary management concerns. However, a well-defined theoretical rationale has not been developed to explain why and how public sector pension plans underfund. This study uses three methods: a survey of national pension experts, an incomplete covariance panel method, and field interviews.^ A survey of national public sector pension experts was conducted to provide a conceptual framework by which underfunding could be evaluated. Experts suggest that plan design, fiscal stress, and political culture factors impact underfunding. However, experts do not agree with previous research findings that unions actively pursue underfunding to secure current wage increases.^ Within the conceptual framework and determinants identified by experts, several empirical regularities are documented for the first time. Analysis of 173 local government pension plans, observed from 1987 to 1992, was conducted. Findings indicate that underfunding occurs in plans that have lower retirement ages, increased costs due to benefit enhancements, when the sponsor faces current year operating deficits, or when a local government relies heavily on inelastic revenue sources. Results also suggest that elected officials artificially inflate interest rate assumptions to reduce current pension costs, consequently shifting these costs to future generations. In concurrence with some experts there is no data to support the assumption that highly unionized employees secure more funding than less unionized employees.^ Empirical results provide satisfactory but not overwhelming statistical power, and only minor predictive capacity. To further explore why underfunding occurs, field interviews were carried out with 62 local government officials. Practitioners indicated that perceived fiscal stress, the willingness of policymakers to advance funding, bargaining strategies used by union officials, apathy by employees and retirees, pension board composition, and the level of influence by internal pension experts has an impact on funding outcomes.^ A pension funding process model was posited by triangulating the expert survey, empirical findings, and field survey results. The funding process model should help shape and refine our theoretical knowledge of state and local government pension underfunding in the future. ^

Subject Area

Political Science, Public Administration

Recommended Citation

Clifford Peter McCue, "Determinants of local government pension funding: Empirical evidence from Florida" (January 1, 1994). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. Paper AAI9503991.