This is a guest post by Amber Snowden.
State and local governments face ongoing fiscal challenges resulting from high levels of unemployment, still recovering housing values, decreased or flat commercial activity, and increased demands on social services. Exacerbating these budget shortfalls, public pensions have not yet returned to their pre-recession funding levels.
Public sector employers recognize that retirement benefits are necessary to attract and retain talented workers. However, despite some improvements in economic conditions, state and local governments continue to seek strategies to balance their budgets while also meeting commitments to employees for a secure retirement following a career in public service.
Access to reliable, current and easily accessible public pension data helps state and local government elected officials, managers and financial officers make informed decisions about budget and retirement issues.
To support public employers in their financial planning and to strengthen retirement security for state and local government workers, the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE), in partnership with the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College (CRR) and the National Association of State Retirement Administrators (NASRA) has recently released an enhanced version of Public Plans Data (PPD) – the most comprehensive, up-to-date database of public retirement plans. PPD provides users with easily retrievable data on fiscal health, plan governance, employer and employee contribution rates, retirement benefits, investment allocations, income and fees, plan membership, and plan provisions.
PPD’s financial, actuarial, and governance data on state and local public pension plans is available at no cost to policy makers, researchers, the media, and the public. The capabilities and accessibility of the PPD help local government officials improve decision-making, transparency and communications about their pension plan and allow for comparisons of individual plans to both national averages and to other individual plans.
PPD’s data is primarily obtained from Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports, actuarial valuations, and other related financial documents as they are released, as well as regular surveys of plan administrators. When possible, the PPD data sets are verified through communications with the individual pension systems. NASRA, which has been collecting and sharing public pension plan data since 2001, provides review and assistance on the development of data models, validation of data, and development and administration of surveys.
Key Features of Public Plans Data include:
- Data on more than 150 state and local pension plans;
- “Quick Facts” — graphs which include explanations on various aspects of pension plans — at the national, state, and local levels;
- Interactive data browser – allowing users to customize data sets on selected variables – available for download;
- Downloadable Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) and Actuarial Valuations (AVs) for every plan included in the database;
- An application programming interface (API) which allows users to connect directly to the PPD database and automatically receive updates as they are made.