Pension fund's unfunded liability represents 301 percent of state budget
New Jersey is first, as it would take the state's entire tax revenues for 4.85 years to cover $168 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. Pennsylvania would need 2.15 years of all of its revenues to fill the $68 billion liability in its pension fund.
Connecticut's $37 billion pension liability would need 1.83 years of its entire state revenues to make it whole.
According to Pew, only four states have at least 90 percent of assets to cover their unfunded pension liabilities.
In 2017, the Public Employees' Retirement System of Mississippi had its unfunded liabilities shrink from $17.9 billion to $16.6 billion thanks to much-improved investment returns.
The pension fund serves most state, county and municipal employees and is 61.6 percent full funded, up from last year when it was only 60 percent funded.
PERS earned 1.2 percent from its investments in 2016, but that improved to 14.96 percent in 2017. The difference between this year's investment income was more than $2.4 billion.
The plan expects an annual return on its investments, known also as a discount rate, of 7.75 percent. Pew said the national average is about 7.5 percent.
Reducing that expectation to 6.5 percent would result in a $4.4 trillion increase nationally in pension liabilities. That represents a $1.7 trillion gap between assets and liabilities.
Declining demographics remain an issue for PERS and it's something that's only get worse in the future.
The number of retirees increased in 2017 to more than 102,000, up 59.9 percent from 2005, when the system supported more than 63,000 retirees. Conversely, the number of contributing employees has decreased to more than 152,000, down nearly 2,000 employees from last year.
The plan's members have an average age of 44.7 and members with at least 15 years of service represent 27 percent of all state and municipal employees in PERS.
Despite the improved investment income, the PERS board had to take action after a report released on April 11 by the Mississippi Legislature's PEER (Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review) Committee said the pension fund won't meet its often-cited 80 percent funding goal by 2042.
In June, the PERS board increased the employer (taxpayer) contribution from 15.75 percent to 17.4 percent and the change will go into effect on July 1, 2019, the start of the next fiscal year.
It says the increase will take it 100 percent fully funding by 2047.