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Atlanta to San Diego: 7 cities' pension problems

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The Associated Press | January 2, 2013 05:04 PM EST | AP


Atlanta: The city faces an unfunded pension liability of $1.5 billion at last estimate. In 2011, the city announced changes that increased worker contributions to their retirement accounts and, for new police and firefighters, a hybrid retirement plan that merges a traditional pension with a 401(k)-style plan. The plan is intended to save more than $500 million over 30 years.

Baltimore: Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake called her city's $1.2 billion pension liability a "crisis" in 2010 that had the potential to bankrupt the city. She ended a decades-old practice of awarding retirees pension increases based on investment earnings, replacing them with cost-of-living increase based on the retiree's age. In September a U.S. District Court judge struck down the change. The city plans to appeal.

Chicago: The city's six pension funds are about 50 percent funded, and have a current unfunded liability of $26.8 billion. In Illinois, state law sets retirement benefits for Chicago workers and teachers. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has asked lawmakers to suspend pension increases, raise retirement rates and increase employee retirement contributions but no action has been taken.

Cincinnati: The pension fund for most city employees and retiree health care was underfunded by about $713 million at the end of 2011. The city took steps in 2011 to raise retirement ages, reduce pension increases and eliminate a burial benefit for future retirees.

Philadelphia: The city's unfunded pension liability was $4.5 billion as of July 1, 2012. The city has shifted some workers to a hybrid system with 401(k)-style portion and given others the option of joining the new plan or contributing more of their own pay to stay with their current benefits.

Providence, R.I.: Saying a $900 million pension liability was threatening to put the city in bankruptcy, Mayor Angel Taveras negotiated concessions with unions and retirees to save the city $178 million in future years. Taveras says the successful talks avoided not only insolvency but also a costly legal battle with unions and retirees.

San Diego: The city's pension investments tumbled nearly 20 percent in 2009, raising its unfunded pension liability from $1.3 billion to $2.11 billion. The city's pension woes made headlines in 2004 when a whistleblower exposed how officials had agreed to boost benefits even as the city put less money into the system. The city laid off 14 percent of its workforce over the next several years as it was forced to pump more money into its pension system. In June, residents voted to impose a six-year freeze on pay levels used to determine pension benefits and put new hires, except police officers, into 401(k)-style plans.