N.J. pension crisis explained with popsicle sticks

Samantha Marcus | NJ Advance Media for NJ.comBy Samantha Marcus | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
on February 28, 2017 at 7:30 AM, updated February 28, 2017 at 8:37 AM

TRENTON — New Jersey’s government worker pension funds lost a lot of ground last year, as the state’s pension debt rose from $43.8 billion to 49.1 billion, newly released actuarial reports reviewed by NJ Advance Media show.

Even as Gov. Chris Christie made a record-high contribution to the pension system, the state’s unfunded liabilities climbed ever higher, making the outlook for the weakest public pension system in the country appear worse still.

The pension fund lost nearly 1 percent on its investments last year, and the state still contributed far less than what’s recommended. And notably, the state winds up owing more because the treasurer reduced the funds’ long-term assumed rate of return on its investments.

The state’s unfunded liability is a portion of the overall debt. The local side of the system is in much better shape but still $17.1 billion short of what it would cost to pay for future retirement benefits. The combined unfunded liability rose from $59 billion in the 2015 fiscal year to $66.2 billion in the fiscal year that ended in June.

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