A look at pension problems, solutions in US cities

CHARLESTON, W.Va.: Bigger and bigger pension costs were draining the city’s general fund until a new law helped the city to set aside more assets for future benefits. The city also created a new plan providing less generous benefits for new police and fire employees.

CHICAGO: The city’s four pension funds were 36 percent funded as of Dec. 31, 2012, and had an unfunded liability of $19.5 billion. The city estimates that without changes, its required contribution to the funds will grow from $479.5 million in 2013 to $1.087 billion in 2015 and to $1.26 billion by 2020. Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants state lawmakers to suspend cost-of-living increases, increase employee pension contributions and give employees the option of a 401(k)-style plan.

NEW YORK: Changes to the pension system mean new workers will contribute a greater amount toward their own pension, and many workers will no longer be able to use overtime hours in the calculations of pension amounts.

OMAHA, Neb.: The city has nearly $800 million in unfunded pension liabilities, mostly because of shortfalls in the police and fire fund. New contracts will require increased pension contributions from police and firefighters and promise fewer benefits to new hires. The city hopes to fully fund its pension system by 2055.

PHILADELPHIA: The city’s unfunded pension liability was $5 billion as of March — and the amount it must set aside each year has doubled in the last decade. The city has proposed creating a new hybrid plan that combines a pension with a new 401(k)-type plan for new non-uniformed employees.

PORTLAND, Ore.: A big chunk of Portland’s pension system is supported by a dedicated property tax. This unusual arrangement ensures that the retirement system doesn’t strain the city’s day-to-day revenues.

PROVIDENCE, R.I.: With the city on the brink of bankruptcy, the mayor negotiated concessions with unions and retirees to reduce its unfunded liability of more than $900 million by nearly $180 million.

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