Nearly 100,000 retired public employees will see their pension checks shrink by nearly 10 percent, starting May 1, the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds said Friday. But that's a smaller reduction than the agency had projected.
Payments from the Core Fund will decline 9.6 percent for many of the pensioners in the Wisconsin Retirement System even though the fund showed returns of 13.7 percent for 2012. That's because results of the Core Fund — the retirement system's main fund — are smoothed over five years, and the past four years of positive returns have not made up for the Core Fund assets' $21 billion slide in 2008.
"Another annuity cut is hard for our retirees," Employee Trust Funds chairman and secretary Robert Conlin said in a written statement. "We know it's not easy, but with 2008 finally behind us, better days should lie ahead."
In December, the agency had projected a drop of as much as 13 percent for pensions from the Core Fund this year.
The actual amount of the decrease varies by individual, and payments from the Core Fund cannot fall below their level when the employee retired. That means about 97,000 people — primarily those who retired before 2004 — will see their pension benefits fall a total of $1.26 billion this year.
This is the last year the 2008 results will factor into pension payments, which will have lost a combined total of more than $4 billion over the five-year period, ETF said.
Meanwhile, retirees with investments in the Variable Fund will get a 9 percent increase in pension payments from that fund. The Variable Fund, whose results are not smoothed, had a 16.9 percent return for 2012. About 40,000 retirees participate in the voluntary, all-stock Variable Fund.
More than 570,000 current and former public employees are invested in the Wisconsin Retirement System, and 167,000 are retirees and their beneficiaries. They received an average pension of $24,916 in 2011, the ETF said.
The retirement fund portfolios, managed by the State of Wisconsin Investment Board, totaled $85 billion as of Dec. 31 and represent the ninth largest U.S. public pension fund.