As we enter the bottom half of President Trump's first year in office, there is some inarguably good economic news to be found. Employment is up, almost to full capacity, across the country. The economy is growing. The stock market is making investors happy all over the place, from your average senior citizen with some utility stocks to the big institutional investors.
Public employees' pension funds have benefitted alongside the other big, more "Wall Street" players, too. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Large U.S. systems that oversee retirement funds for police, firefighters, teachers and other public workers earned median returns of 12.4 percent in the fiscal year ended June 30 … Funds overseen by the Illinois State Board of Investment earned nearly 12 percent in the fiscal year ended June 30 … The California Public Employees' Retirement System, the biggest in the U.S., earned 11.2 percent in fiscal 2017." The California teachers' pension fund has done well, too; it "reported a fiscal 2017 return of 13.4 percent." Connecticut's public pension funds "earned a collective return of 14.3 percent."
But before you plan a party for the public pensioners and their growing piggybanks, note one thing: Public pensions are still in trouble overall. To make matters worse, some Social Justice Warrior type pension fund trustees are risking suboptimal returns by prioritizing political agendas over dollars and cents. If the economy falters even a little, that means your wallet will be raided if you live in a blue state where said Warriors are suiting up for battle.
It's painful to even think of, but it's likely that at some point in the next couple of years, the economy will slip. We're currently in the third-longest economic expansion in the whole of US history (crazy and reality-disconnected as that sounds). It seems unlikely that that will continue indefinitely. Assuming it doesn't, we can bet public pensions aren't going to experience the high returns they did this year in 2018, or 2019, or 2020. And the Social Justice Warriors are going to make it worse.
CALPERS, the California Public Retirement System, "has just 68 percent of the assets it needs to pay for future benefits." One Illinois public employees retirement fund has only 35 percent of the total it would need to cover benefits for all future retirees. In Connecticut, the overall state employees fund is in the same 35 percentboat. Connecticut's Treasurer suggests that will be addressed via benefit cuts, but let's be honest: Taxes will go up to fill the hole, too.
Blue State liberals are determined to make it all worse than needs be. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James has been calling for JP Morgan to sever financial ties with some private prison companies, because she doesn't approve of how they make their money. And she's threatening to use the City pension fund's investments with JP Morgan to force them into severing those ties. That's a purely-politically-motivated investment decision that could well impact the financial health of the city pension fund, meaning more taxpayer money having to prop it up, all because James thinks her political views are more important than profit assessments made by Jamie Dimon's employees. James seems to have forgotten she has a legal duty to deliver the best financial results for the fund.
More usually, the focus of these public pension divestment campaigns is fossil fuels, though.
Out in Minneapolis, the City Council "asked city staff to explore ending the city's relationship with Wells Fargo because of the bank's investment in the Dakota Access pipeline." California legislat
Social Justice Warriors may be fine with those results, but it's unlikely that a lot of their neighbors will be — especially when higher tax bills come due to fill gaps led by politically-driven investment strategies.
Ben Howe is a Senior Contributing Editor at RedState, a documentary filmmaker, and author of the upcoming book "The Immoral Majority."
If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions.