August 6, 2014

ELECTING DE BLASIO WAS CERTAINLY A MOVE IN THAT DIRECTION: Is New York the Next Detroit?

The core problem is that returns have not tracked with the city’s optimistic projections. In 2012, the city finally lowered its projected return to 7 percent from 8 percent, but after decades of excessive optimism, that left it with a giant hole; the payments had to be stretched out over more than two decades in order to minimize the fiscal hit. Yet this still may not be enough; it’s possible that 7 percent is still too rosy.

Like many state and local pension funds, the city has tried to make up the difference between its projections and what the market actually delivered by plunging into higher-risk investments. Those more complicated investments came with higher fees . . . and the possibility of big losses. The city seems to have taken at least one major bath, on a private equity fund that closed in 2011.

A lot of people would like the city to return to more conservative investments managed by in-house managers; former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg . . . oversaw an effort to move in that direction a few years back. But one major thing is standing in the way: politics. It’s not just the fiscal hit that the city would take from adopting a less risky, more realistic approach; it’s also opposition from unions. . . .

In New York, reports the Times, the unions don’t want to move to more conservative pension accounting, because if they do, the city will be required to put more money into the pot . . . and the taxpaying public might mobilize against the union workers who put them in this spot.

Of course, putting it off will ultimately just make the problem worse; the inexorable logic of compounding is just not very forgiving.

The Gods Of The Copybook Headings will not be denied. And the motto for this decade seems to be “something that can’t go on forever, won’t.”