Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration

First Advisor's Name

Howard A. Frank

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Hai Guo

Third Advisor's Name

Shaoming Cheng

Fourth Advisor's Name

John S. Zdanowicz


Public Pension System, Defined Benefit, Defined Contribution, Pension Paradigm Switch, Interperiod Equity

Date of Defense



The issue of increasing unfunded pension liabilities of state and local governments has drawn increasing attentions in the last few years, especially after the 2008 stock market downturn. To maintain sustainability many state and local governments have put public pension reform at the top of their priority list. Previous research and practices provide two strategies to reform the current pension systems: Incremental changes to amend the existing defined benefit plans (DB plans), and the pension model switch from the DB model to defined contribution plans (DC plans).

This study aims to uncover reform strategies to cope for public pension systems. It first examined the appropriateness of the incremental reform strategies by identifying the determinants of the financial solvency of DB plans, utilizing the existing panel data of 151 local DB plans in Florida municipalities. Second, it gathered the primary data through the surveys and interviews with the Finance and HR directors in Florida local governments to analyze their perceptions of public pension reform and reveal their readiness to conduct the public pension paradigm switch. These approaches revealed the critical interperiod equity issue along with the impact of the two-tier benefit structure during the recent pension reform.

The results suggest that incremental reform strategies that reduce benefits and increase contributions are not effective in improving the financial solvency of public DB plans. The alternative reform approach—the DB-to-DC transition—is attractive to local governments because it will relieve the employer of the pension cost burden and transfer the investment risk to employees themselves. The transition is also politically palatable because the taxpayer sentiment is not supportive of what are perceived to be generous retirement benefit of public employees. Meanwhile, local governments are hesitant to implement the paradigm switch due to prohibitive transition costs, political pressure, and perhaps more importantly, the potential negative impacts to public recruitment and retention. Local officials do not perceive a reduction of morale with the two-tier benefit structure at the present time; they believe this issue will solve itself along the retirement of senior employees.





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