Under the Dome

Dome: North Carolina ahead in pension funding

STAFF WRITERSApril 26, 2011 

North Carolina's state pension is relatively well funded compared with that of other states, according to a new study by the Pew Center on the States.

The study found that, on average, state pension systems were slightly less than 78 percent funded in 2009, down 6 percentage points from 2008 as a result of the recession.

But North Carolina's pension fund was 97 percent funded. Pension funds only in New York, Wisconsin and Washington were better funded, according to the report.

The General Accounting Office advises states to have at least an 80 percent funding level; 31 states were below that level.

Virginia was at 80 percent, South Carolina at 69 percent, Tennessee at 90 percent, and Georgia at 87 percent.

"In the midst of the Great Recession and severe investment declines, the gap between the promises states made for employees' retirement benefits and the money they set aside to pay for them grew to at least $1.26 trillion in fiscal 2009, resulting in a 26 percent increase in one year," the Pew Center said.

As for funding for retiree health care and other non-pension benefits, North Carolina had put aside 3 percent of the total liability - less than the national average of just under 5 percent in 2009, according to the Pew Center. Nineteen states put aside no money for these promises. Virginia put aside 26 percent, South Carolina 5 percent, Tennessee 0, and Georgia 4 percent.

Robocalls under way

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Monday began automated phone calls into Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers' district attacking her for voting for the Republican budget that would alter the Medicare people younger than 55.

Ellmers is one of 50 targeted Republicans accused of trying to end Medicare, the government health insurance program for seniors.

"Everyone agrees we must cut spending and tighten our belt, but Congressman Ellmers has made all the wrong choices," the caller says. "She actually voted to end Medicare, rather than end taxpayer giveaways for big oil making record profits, or tax breaks for the ultra-rich."

The Republican-backed tax plan that passed the House eventually would turn Medicare into a program that pays private insurers a set amount of money, with beneficiaries having to make up any costs not covered.

Duncan to visit FSU

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will speak to 500 graduates at Fayetteville State University next week.

President Obama's top education adviser will headline the May 7 commencement ceremony at 9 a.m. in the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville. The event is open to the public.

Duncan, the former public schools chief in Chicago, has pushed an aggressive reform agenda with the grant competition known as Race to the Top, a $4 billion program meant to spur changes and innovation in K-12 education.

A dozen states and the District of Columbia have won grants, including North Carolina, which will have $400 million to spend during a four-year period.

The grant contest led most states to adopt common standards for K-12 learning. It also resulted in some states allowing more charter schools, which receive public money but operate outside requirements and regulations of public schools.

rob.christensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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