PFFA Unveils New Look Web Site For 2015
Brothers and Sisters, we are excited to announce our website has been completely redesigned!
The first thing you will notice is the “band of brothers” cover photo, which is now our latest branding image. This picture captures the essence of who we are and what we do. We are a family. We are united in our calling to serve our communities, look out for each other and lend support when and where it’s needed.
Another great feature is the ease of navigation through the site, allowing you to find beneficial content, such as the latest news from the International Association of Fire Fighters, members’ news and pension legislation updates.
Please check the website regularly as we will be updating it frequently with important news and events. Check us out at www.pffaz.org
On the PFFA pension reform front, we are still working the Legislature to bring our proposals forward. For a basic overview of the pension situation you may view the video on our website.
The Latest News On Pension Reform Efforts
An important development happened last week on the legal side of our pension plan. We have been working on a solution to our pension-funding situation because it appears that most – if not all of SB 1609 – will be overturned. The outcome of the Fields case, one of the most significant pieces of litigation in relationship to our pension fight, will likely drop the funding ratio of PSPRS below 50 percent.
On January 27, 2015, the Arizona Superior Court entered a final judgment in the Hall case. The effect of that case? To declare that anything in SB 1609 purporting to change the pension rights that active members had, prior to the effective date of SB 1609, were void and of no effect. The court’s judgment essentially restored to the status quo, the PSPRS rights of all active members who were employed prior to July 20, 2011 (SB 1609’s effective date). In addition, it invalidated SB 1609 as it pertained to such PSPRS members.
Among those provisions of SB 1609 that the court threw out were the increase in a member’s contribution rates and the purported changes to the formula used to grant permanent increases in base benefits (commonly referred to as the “COLA.”)
Not only did the court invalidate SB 1609 as it pertained to our active members, but it also enjoined PSPRS and the State of Arizona from applying SB 1609 to our active members. Plus, it ordered them to restore the reserve for such permanent benefit increases as if SB 1609 had never been enacted.
The court’s judgment in Hall is a sweeping declaration that SB 1609 is unconstitutional as applied to all active judges, and because of the stipulation we entered into, it is also a sweeping declaration that SB 1609 is unconstitutional as applied to all active fire fighters who were members of the system prior to July 20, 2011.
In the court’s minute entry, the judge said he was going to let the Retirement System have some latitude to take appropriate administrative steps to “fix” this, e.g., restore the reserve account, change their practices, etc., but the judgment itself restores the status quo. Basically, SB 1609 cannot retroactively change any formulas, any contribution rates, or any COLA’s, for officers who were members of the system prior to July 20, 2011. It is likely that the PSPRS board will vote to appeal this decision to the Arizona Supreme Court. We will stay active in this and provide you with updates as they are available.
The Truth About PSPRS Investment Performance
This guest column in the Arizona Capitol Times was authored by Ryan Parham, the chief investment officer with PSPRA. It's a must-read for everyone interested in pension issues.
All too often, fiction and gossip move faster than truth and reason. As such, it is often stated by our detractors that our $8 billion portfolio is the state’s “worst-performing pension plan,” which gives the impression that our investment staff is incompetent and responsible for the trust’s sagging pension funding levels.
The truth is: the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System has an enviable investment record. Prominent industry consultants rank PSPRS among the top 4 percent of all U.S. pension funds in risk-adjusted returns for the past three years. We also join the top 11 percent of all U.S. pension funds for the past five years. While these facts might not make for a provocative headline, they matter to our beneficiaries, our contributors, our staff and our elected officials.
Most importantly, we are achieving these results while taking far less risk than nearly every other pension fund in the country.
Return is a direct result of risk taken. The more risk one takes, the higher the potential return – and the threat of loss. The struggle is maximizing return while minimizing risk, and the benchmark for evaluating skill is what level of return can be achieved within a measurable level of risk.
Last fiscal year, PSPRS outperformed national risk-adjusted averages by one half of 1 percent. It sounds miniscule, but it meant an additional $380 million in value to the trust. Our actively managed strategy is simple: Diversify assets and reduce exposure to publicly traded equities, the greatest driver of market volatility. High-risk strategies and lack of diversification have proven disastrous for PSPRS, as evidenced by $1 billion losses suffered in the 2000-2001 “dot-com” market crash.
While it is true that in recent years PSPRS’ returns have been less than its sister plan, the Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS), it is important to remember our innovative, low-risk, moderate return strategy is by conscious design, due to a pension benefit that PSPRS alone must pay to pensioners. This benefit, called the Permanent Benefit Increase, or “PBI,” siphons and distributes half of all returns in excess of 9 percent to eligible retirees. Not only are these increased payment levels made permanent, the investment gains only serve to increase – not decrease – unfunded future liabilities.
This rang true in fiscal years 2013 and 2014, in which PSPRS net performances were a positive 11 percent and 13.3 percent, respectively, while the system’s funded ratio dropped on both occasions. The cruel irony of this is that unless the PBI is modified to allow the PSPRS to retain and reinvest all of its gains, it is unlikely that we will ever be able to significantly impact the decline in our funding ratio.
PSPRS wants its retirees to enjoy increases, but we are incentivized to seek lower returns in the range of 9 percent to maximize earnings that can be applied to cover – and hopefully reduce – unfunded liabilities.
It is this flawed mechanism that serves as the main contributor to PSPRS’ funding drop, and unless changed by a vote of the people or the Legislature and upheld by the courts, we are powerless to slow the decline.
The insistence on assigning blame on PSPRS investment performance – and by extension our employees – for diminishing funding ratios is inaccurate and misleading and a disservice to policymakers, our beneficiaries and the public alike.
Given the evident constraints they must operate under, our nationally and internationally recognized investment team deserves appreciation for its service to our state, not derision that has no basis in fact.
- Ryan Parham is PSPRS’ chief investment officer.
Fill The Boot Partnership To Go Big in 2015
As members of the IAFF, we have committed ourselves to stand alongside the Muscular Dystrophy Association in the fight against muscle diseases. This year marks the 61st year of our fight. As in years past, we will work hard in our partnership with the MDA, with the hope that we will one day live in a world free of neuromuscular diseases.
Over the last 60 years, the IAFF has become the largest national sponsor of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Last year, fire fighters across the nation, led by members of the IAFF, raised over $26 million. This played a large role in the MDA’s mission to provide services and support to those affected by muscle disease. In our home state of Arizona, we as members of the IAFF greatly contributed to this number by raising more than $380,000 last year.
Fill-the-boot will be here soon and we encourage all locals to prepare. Many of you have some unique and creative ways to raise money so we look forward to sharing those to boost our numbers for 2015.
If you ever need anything you may contact the MDA office by calling (480) 753-9084.
Have A Brew In Tucson!
It is not too soon to begin planning for the Northwest Fire Fighters Top Hops Beer Festival in Tucson!
This is the 5th annual Top Hops Beer Festival and it’s going to be even better than before. Your local firefighters and microbrewers from around the state have come together to create this event to help raise money for local charities. It doesn’t get any better than that!
This is a great event, which makes a positive impact on our communities through beer, food and fun.
This year the festival will take place on Saturday, April 25 at the Foothills Mall in Tucson. For more information please check out their website. You can also find updates on their Facebook page.
Fire Fighter Memorial To Break Ground in March
Our groundbreaking for the Arizona Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial will happen in March. The Arizona Firefighters & Emergency Paramedics Memorial will provide a place to remember sacrifices made, reflect on the loss of the more than 105 Fallen and provide space to remember those whose lives will be sacrificed in the future. This memorial will be constructed on the eastern edge of Wesley Bolin Plaza as approved by the State Legislature in HB2136.
It’s a worthy and honorable endeavor, and we need your help. We’re short of our fundraising goal by a few hundred thousand dollars. Any individual or Local with any fundraising/donation capacity, we could sure use a hand, please. There is no way to adequately say “Thank you” to these men and women who have given their lives in the line of duty or to their families. The best that can be done is to never forget!
For more information on this important effort, please visit The Arizona Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial website.