State and Local Government Retiree Benefits: Current Status of Benefit Structures, Protections, and Fiscal Outlook for Funding Future Costs

GAO-07-1156 Published: Sep 24, 2007. Publicly Released: Oct 24, 2007.
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State and local retiree benefits are not subject, for the most part, to federal laws governing private sector retiree benefits. Nevertheless, there is a federal interest in ensuring that all Americans have a secure retirement, as reflected in the special tax treatment provided for both private and public pension funds. In 2004, new government accounting standards were issued, calling for the reporting of liabilities for future retiree health costs. As these standards are implemented and the extent of the related liabilities become known, questions have been raised about whether the public sector can continue to provide the current level of benefits to its retirees. GAO was asked to provide an overview of state and local government retiree benefits, including the following: (1) the types of benefits provided and how they are structured, (2) how retiree benefits are protected and managed, and (3) the fiscal outlook for retiree benefits and what governments are doing to ensure they can meet their future commitments. For this overview, GAO obtained data from various organizations, used our model that simulates the fiscal outlook for the state and local sector, and conducted site visits to three states that illustrate a range of benefit structures, protections, and fiscal outlooks. Cognizant agency officials provided technical comments which were incorporated as appropriate.

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