Gale, Holmes & John: Public Pensions in Flux – Can the Federal Government’s Experiences Inform State Responses?

From the Introduction:

In many policy-related situations, the states can be useful laboratories to determine the most appropriate federal actions. Variations across states in health care programs, earned income credit rules, minimum wages, and other policies have helped inform debates about federal interventions.

In this paper, we reverse that approach. Many state and local governments currently face difficulties financing future pension obligations for their workers. The federal government, however, faced similar circumstances in the 1980s and successfully implemented a substantial reform. We examine the situation the federal government faced and how it responded to the funding challenge. We present key aspects of the situation facing state governments currently and draw comparisons between them and the federal situation in the 1980s. Our overarching conclusion is that states experiencing distress today about the cost and funding of its pension plans could benefit from following an approach similar to the federal government’s resolution of its pension problems in the 1980s.



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