The Pew Center for the States, a respected non-profit research outfit, released a grim assessment of the nation's largest 61 cities' pension obligations this week. At the bottom of the barrel: Portland.
The problem here is the Fire and Police Disability and Retirement fund, which is funded on a pay-as-you go basis, unlike most pension funds, such as the Public Employee Retirement System, which accrue savings to meeting future obligations.
The report paints a dismal fiscal picture for the nation's cities:
"Wide disparities exist in how prepared cities are to fulfill their pension obligations," the report says.
"Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., had surpluses at the end of fiscal year 2009, with enough money to cover 113 percent and 104 percent, respectively, of their liabilities, better than the best-funded state, New York, at 101 percent. In four cities—Charleston; Omaha; Portland, Oregon; and Providence, Rhode Island—pension systems were more poorly funded than those in Illinois, which at 51 percent was the lowest-funded state."
Portland's pension problem is not news to people who have followed city finances—former WW reporter Bob Young put the issue front and center in 1999 with a cover story titled "The Pension Fund That Ate Portland," but since then the unfunded liability has skyrocketed.