- Associated Press - Thursday, August 17, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A recent surge in investment income at New Mexico’s two major public pension funds will not be enough to address an accumulation of unfunded obligations to retirees, manager of the funds told a panel of lawmakers on Thursday.

Double-digit annual returns on stocks and other investments have boosted the pensions’ assets to record levels and shortened the timeline somewhat for addressing billions of dollars in unfunded obligations to current and future retirees.

New Mexico Educational Retirement Board Executive Director Jan Goodwin told lawmakers that changes to pension benefits and contributions are under consideration anyway to address unfunded liabilities that stood at $7.4 billion in June 2016.

She said reforms may be proposed ahead of the 2019 legislative session to ensure that enough money is available to pay public school and college employees as they retire.

Assets at the pension fund increased by $967 million to $12.3 billion during the fiscal year ending June 30, even as the pension fund paid out more money than it took in from members. The pension plan covers 60,000 active members and 46,000 retirees.

“The bad news is that it will take 84 years to get us toward 100 percent funding” for retirements, Goodwin said. “Our board feels that 84 years is too long.”

Separate pension assets overseen by the New Mexico Public Employees Retirement Association climbed to $15 billion as of June 30, boosted by one-year investment earnings of just over $1.5 billion.

“That provides us a little bit of breathing room,” said Public Employees Retirement Association Executive Director Wayne Propst.

The pension fund for state, county and municipal workers along with judges and volunteer firefighters has not been fully funded since 2002. Several lawmakers on the Legislative Finance Committee faulted the pension’s oversight board for not acting more quickly to ensure future pensions are funded adequately.

Propst said there were no immediate plans to restructure benefits and contributions, but acknowledged that investment gains can easily reverse course.

“We probably can’t reinvest our way back to 100 percent” funding, he said.

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