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Focus On Public Sector: GASB Approves Issuance of New Pension Accounting and Financial Reporting Standards

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On June 25, The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), voted to approve two new standards that will substantially improve the accounting and financial reporting of public employee pensions by state and local governments.
June 26, 2012

On June 25, The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), voted to approve two new standards that will substantially improve the accounting and financial reporting of public employee pensions by state and local governments.

Statement No. 67, Financial Reporting for Pension Plans, revises existing guidance for the financial reports of most pension plans and amends GASB Statement No. 25 Financial Reporting for Defined Benefit Pension Plans and Note Disclosures for Defined Contribution Plans and Statement No. 50, Pension Disclosures.

Statement No. 68, Accounting and Financial Reporting for Pensions, revises and establishes new financial reporting requirements for most governments that provide their employees with pension benefits and amends GASB Statement No. 27 Accounting for Pensions by State and Local Governmental Employers and Statement No. 50, Pension Disclosures.

Pension plans are categorized for financial reporting purposes in two ways:

  • Plans are classified by whether the income or other benefits that the employee will receive at or after separation from employment are defined by the benefit terms (a defined benefit plan) or whether the benefits an employee will receive will depend only on the contributions to the employee’s account, actual earnings on investments of those contributions, and other factors (a defined contribution plan).
  • Defined benefit plans are classified based on the number of governments participating in a particular pension plan and whether assets and obligations are shared among the participating governments. Categories include:
    • Plans where only one employer participates (single employer)
    • Plans in which assets are pooled for investment purposes, but each employer’s share of the pooled assets is legally available to pay the benefits of only its employees (agent multiple employer)
    • Plans in which participating employers pool or share obligations to provide pensions to their employees and plan assets can be used to pay the benefits of employees of any participating employer (cost-sharing multiple employer)

    Statement No. 68 (Employers)

    Statement No. 68 relates to governments that provide pensions through pension plans administered as trusts or similar arrangements that meet certain criteria.

    For the first time, Statement No. 68 requires governments providing defined benefit pensions to recognize their long-term obligation for pension benefits as a liability, and to more comprehensively and comparably measure the annual costs of pension benefits. The Statement also enhances accountability and transparency through new and revised note disclosures and required supplementary information (RSI).

    Defined Benefit Pension Plans

    The Statement requires governments that participate in defined benefit pension plans to report a net pension liability in their statement of net position.

    The net pension liability is the difference between the total pension liability (the present value of projected benefit payments to employees based on their past service) and the assets (primarily investments reported at fair value) set aside in a trust and restricted to paying benefits to current employees, retirees, and their beneficiaries.

    The Statement calls for immediate recognition of pension expense in amounts greater than is currently required. This includes immediate recognition of annual service cost and interest on the pension liability and immediate recognition of the effect on the net pension liability of changes in benefit terms.

    Other components of pension expense will be recognized over a closed period that is determined by the average remaining service period of the plan members (both current and former employees, including retirees).

    These other components include the effects on the net pension liability of:

    1. Changes in economic and demographic assumptions used to project benefits, and
    2. Differences between those assumptions and actual experience.

    Lastly, the effects on the net pension liability of differences between expected and actual investment returns will be recognized in pension expense over a closed five-year period.

    Statement No. 68 requires cost-sharing employers to record a liability and expense equal to their proportionate share of the collective net pension liability and expense for the cost-sharing plan, something that also had not been required in the past.

    The Statement also will improve the comparability and consistency of how governments calculate the pension liabilities and expense by standardizing rules related to the projections of benefit payments to employees, the discount rate used to discount projected benefit payments to their present value and finally governments will use a single actuarial cost allocation method – “entry age,” with each period’s service cost determined as a level percentage of pay.

    Note Disclosures and Required Supplementary Information

    Statement No. 68 also requires employers to present more extensive note disclosures and RSI, including disclosing descriptive information about the types of benefits provided, how contributions to the pension plan are determined, and assumptions and methods used to calculate the pension liability.

    Governments participating in single and agent multiple-employer plans will disclose additional information, such as the composition of the employees covered by the benefit terms and the sources of changes in the components of the net pension liability for the current year.

    These governments will also will present RSI schedules covering the past 10 years regarding:

    • Sources of changes in the components of the net pension liability
    • Ratios that assist in assessing the magnitude of the net pension liability
    • Comparisons of actual employer contributions to the pension plan with actuarially determined contribution requirements, if an employer has actuarially determined contributions.

    Governments participating in cost-sharing multiple-employer plans will also present the RSI schedule of net pension liability, information about contractually required contributions, and related ratios.

    Defined Contribution Pensions

    The existing standards for governments that provide defined contribution pension plans are largely carried forward in the new Statement. These governments will recognize pension expenses equal to the amount of contributions or credits to employees’ accounts, absent forfeited amounts. A pension liability will be recognized for the difference between amounts recognized as expense and actual contributions made to a defined contribution pension plan.

    Special Funding Situations

    Certain governments are legally responsible for making contributions directly to a pension plan that is used to provide pensions to the employees of another government.

    For example, a state is legally required to contribute to a pension plan that covers local school districts’ teachers. In specific circumstances, referred to as special funding situations, the Statement requires governments that are required to make such contributions to recognize in their own financial statements their proportionate share of the other governmental employers’ net pension liability and pension expense.

    Statement No. 67 (Plans)

    This Statement relates to pension plans that are administered through trusts or similar arrangements meeting certain criteria.

    The Statement builds upon the existing framework for financial reports of defined benefit pension plans, which includes a statement of fiduciary net position (the amount held in a trust for paying retirement benefits) and a statement of changes in fiduciary net position.

    Statement No. 67 enhances note disclosures and RSI for both defined benefit and defined contribution pension plans. Statement No. 67 also requires the presentation of new information about annual money-weighted rates of return in the notes to the financial statements and in 10-year RSI schedules.

    Effective Dates and Availability

    The provisions in Statement No. 67 are effective for financial statements for periods beginning after June 15, 2013. The provisions in Statement No. 68 are effective for fiscal years beginning after June 15, 2014. Earlier application is encouraged for both Statements.

    Under U.S. Treasury Department guidelines, we hereby inform you that any tax advice contained in this communication is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used by you for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on you by the Internal Revenue Service, or for the purpose of promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed within this tax advice. Further, RubinBrown LLP imposes no limitation on any recipient of this tax advice on the disclosure of the tax treatment or tax strategies or tax structuring described herein.

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