“In Washington’s case, they performed well,” Mr. Draine said. “Their pensions are very well-funded. They’ve been one of the best cities in setting aside money to pay that cost.”
Baltimore had amassed 86 percent of the money it should have for pensions, compared to an average of 74 percent around the country. But that still leaves the city with a pension funding gap of $768 million. Baltimore is also looking at a $2.4 billion gap in funding for other retirement benefits.
“In Baltimore’s case, that is a city that’s doing relatively well,” Mr. Draine explained, “but it still has a substantial liability, even though it’s smaller than other cities.”
Still, there’s room for improvement, even in better-financed cities such as Washington and Baltimore.
“This doesn’t mean that they’re in perfect shape,” Mr. Draine said. “Some of them still have funding shortfalls they’ll have to make up. Really, nobody did well in terms of retirement health care.”
Mr. Draine said cities will have to consider some combination of raising new revenues through tax hikes, cutting spending and services, asking employees to contribute more, or cutting benefits to make up for these shortfalls.
“Policymakers need to make sure that they’re not offering benefits that they can’t pay for,” Mr. Draine warned, “and make sure they don’t take risks they can’t handle. Just like a credit card bill, only buy things you can afford to pay for.”