Pa. pension: Above average not enough; deficit rising

The Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System, close to "fully funded" in the early 2000s, is falling farther behind balancing its current assets with its expected future liabilities as it pays pensions to lawmakers, judges, state troopers, social workers and other public employees faster than payroll deductions, investment profits and tax revenues can fill the gap.

SERS assets totalled $24.9 billion in market value at Dec. 31, down $1 billion during the year despite what SERS managers say was above-average performance by the highly-compensated buyout fund managers (Mitt Romney's rivals) who manage a large chunk of its total investments.

That total is just 61% of the $40.6 billion in actuarial accrued liability SERS faced at Dec. 31. The ratio is down from 66% a year earlier.  Taxpayers will make up the difference through bigger payments into the public pension system, unless investment values turn around fast.

The board, still chaired (after 20 years) by former State Rep. Nicholas J. Maiale and dominated by appointments of Gov. Corbett and his legislative allies, continues to invest in non-public investment funds in hopes they'll provide better profits than stocks and bonds. In December, for example, they invested $250 million with veteran hedge fund manager Julian Robertson's Tiger Management LLC.

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