That's what a NYT article seemed to be telling people. The center of the story is the fact that it appears that La Grange, Ill (population 15,550) was using grossly out of date mortality tables in calculating the pension obligations for its police and fire fighters. Without directly saying as much, the piece implies that this is a common problem with much larger pension funds and that such practices are the basis for the underfunding of many public sector pensions.
In fact, the main reason that some public sector funds face severe shortfalls is that politicians like Richard M. Daley and Chris Christie chose not to make required contributions. This is a serious problem since the country's elites apparently praise such behavior. Since ending his last term as mayor of Chicago, Mr. Daley has been appointed a senior distinguished fellow at the University of Chicago, given a seat on the board of Coca Cola, and made a principal of the investment firm Tur Partners LLC. Chris Christie is running for the Republican presidential nomination. Reporters covering his campaign rarely mention his failure to make required pension contributions, including going back an explicit commitment to state employee unions, as a liability. If the people most directly responsible for the underfunding of pensions get rewarded, then it should not be surprising that we do have some cases of major underfunding.
Bizarrely, at one point the piece suggests that the public might look to actuaries as the main target for the underfunding of public sector pensions:
"Retirees are counting on the money promised to them. Taxpayers are in no mood to bail out troubled pension funds. Some are looking for scapegoats.
"'Actuaries make a juicy target,' said Mary Pat Campbell, an actuary who responded to the board’s call for comments."
This is bizarre since Wall Street is the far more obvious target. The recession following the collapse of the housing bubble is likely to cost the country more than $10 trillion in lost output. This both directly contributed to pension shortfalls, by making it more difficult for governments to make required contributions to pensions during the recession years, and indirectly by reducing the revenue base of many governments on an ongoing basis. It is rather strange that taxpayers should look to target actuaries, most of whom make relatively modest salaries, rather than big Wall Street players who often make tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars a year.