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State and Local Government Retiree Benefits: Current Funded Status of Pension and Health Benefits

GAO-08-223 Published: Jan 29, 2008. Publicly Released: Feb 28, 2008.
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Pension and other retiree benefits for state and local government employees represent liabilities for state and local governments and ultimately a burden for state and local taxpayers. Since 1986, accounting standards have required state and local governments to report their unfunded pension liabilities. Recently, however, standards changed and now call for governments also to report retiree health liabilities. The extent of these liabilities nationwide is not yet known, but some predict they will be very large, possibly exceeding a trillion dollars in present value terms. The federal government has an interest in assuring that all Americans have a secure retirement, as reflected in the federal tax deferral for contributions to both public and private pension plans. Consequently, the GAO was asked to examine: 1) the key measures of the funded status of retiree benefits and 2) the current funded status of retiree benefits. GAO analyzed data on public pensions, reviewed current literature, and interviewed a range of experts on public retiree benefits, actuarial science, and accounting.

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Accounting standardsContingent liabilitiesFunds managementGovernment retirement benefitsHealth care cost controlHealth care costsHealth care planningHealth care programsHealth care reformLocal governmentsPension plan cost controlPensionsReporting requirementsRetireesRetirementRetirement benefitsState governmentsState taxesStrategic planning