SLGE Briefing: County Pension Plans

Counties in 22 states administer their own pension plans.

May 5, 2016 | ARTICLE

A recent briefing issued by the Center for State & Local Government Excellence discussed the role of counties in providing public pensions. Particularly, the briefing focused on counties that provide their own pension plans instead of relying on state-administered pension plans.

Counties in 22 states administer their own pension plans. Not surprisingly, in states like California, Maryland, and Virginia, where counties play a major governmental role, many counties sponsor their own pension plans. However, in Pennsylvania, where counties play a relatively minor governmental role, 78 counties sponsor a total of 65 pension plans.

On average, counties contribute roughly 4.8% of their total revenues towards pension plans, though the range of contributions between counties can vary from <2% to >10%. Notably, in 2013, county-administered pension plans were 75% funded, which was on par with state-administered plans (74%), and significantly better than city-administered (67%) and school-district-administered plans (58%).

The total unfunded liabilities for county-administered plans were $47 billion. However, when accounting for county shares in state-administered plans, the total unfunded liabilities were $146 billion (or 12% of the $1.2 trillion for all state and local governments). The ratio of unfunded liabilities was strongly impacted by which government unit was responsible for teachers’ pensions.

Click here to read the entire briefing and review the data.