Right tools can dig us out of pension debt
From Grasssroot Institute, October 27, 2017
Hawaii’s public pension system has an unfunded liability of $12 billion, and that’s pretty scary as Halloween approaches.
Thom Williams, executive director of the state Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), told me that one way to dig ourselves out of that debt is to grow our way out, through sound investment strategies.
What many people may not realize is that Hawaii’s pension system invests billions of dollars so it can generate more money, both to pay off the debt and make good on the financial promises to state and county employee retirees.
These investment earnings pay for 70 percent of all the benefits for members of the public pension system. That is why it is imperative that the ERS have the tools to make sound investments, to ease the burden on taxpayers and fully fund the retirements of our public workers.
But some of our legislators don’t always see it that way.
Sometimes they see the workers who handle the investments as an unneeded overhead expense — which can be tempting to cut. Other times, politicians meddle in the investments of the ERS, affecting its ability to optimize its returns and dig itself out of debt.
As Thom said at a meeting on Maui hosted recently by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, “We produce money.” And it’s true: With its ability to make investments, the ERS is one of the few government agencies that has the ability to produce its own money, if empowered to do so.
Growing out of the pension crisis will not be easy, but with the right tools, realistic numbers and appropriate reforms, the state has an opportunity to lift itself out of debt.
Financial oversight certainly is warranted, but minimizing the meddling and letting the fund managers do their jobs would be among good ways to help fix Hawaii's unfunded-liability problem, so we can keep our promise of good financial health to our public retirees, and to our children.
E hana kakou (Let’s work together!),
Keli'i Akina, Ph.D.