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Public pensions in Wisconsin

what is accrued liabilities

Note: This page utilizes information from a variety of sources. As such, the currency of the information varies somewhat. The information presented on this page reflects the most recent data available as of March 2015.

Wisconsin public pensions are the state mechanism by which state and many local government employees in Wisconsin receive retirement benefits.

According to the United States Census Bureau, there were three public pension systems in Wisconsin as of 2013. Of these, one was a state-level program, while the remaining two were administered at the local level. As of 2013, membership in Wisconsin's various pension systems totaled 437,906. Of these, 271,534 were active members. [1]

According to reports based on the most recent available data, most states' pension plans continued to be underfunded below the 80 percent considered necessary for a healthy fund. Decreased funding and increasing liabilities since the 2008 recession continued to put pressure on local and state budgets, in some cases leading to bankruptcy. Higher pension costs can have the following consequences: [2]

  • higher taxes
  • less intergovernmental aid for services
  • lower credit ratings
  • higher interest rates on state borrowing

Between fiscal years 2008 and 2012, the funded ratio of Wisconsin's state-administered pension plans increased slightly from 99.6 percent to 99.9 percent. The state paid 100 percent of its annual required contribution, and for fiscal year 2012 the pension system's unfunded accrued liability totaled $99.3 billion. This amounted to only $18 in unfunded liabilities per capita, making Wisconsin one of the healthiest pension systems in the country. [2] [3]


Pension systems vary greatly across the states in their organization, management and accounting principles, and are extremely complicated and difficult to compare. The basic data on this page comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, as reported by the states and pension funds themselves for fiscal year 2013. Also included are comparative data from three different reports, which looked at the states' Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs). The Pew Center report and Morningstar had very similar data: both found that pension funds in the U.S. altogether were roughly 72 percent funded in 2012. The State Budget Solutions report, using a lower rate of return to calculate

assets in the future, estimated that total unfunded liabilities in the United States rose from 4.1 trillion to 4.7 trillion between 2013 and 2014, and for all states together pensions were only 36 percent funded. All three studies showed that the majority of state pension systems continue to be seriously underfunded. See the section on "Pension health" below for figures comparing Wisconsin to its neighbors in all three reports.

Key terms

Here are some key terms used in discussing pension funds and pension health.

  1. Actuarial accrued liability (AAL). The present value of all benefits owed to current and future retirees, based on the number of retirees and the promises made regarding benefits.
  2. Actuarial value of assets (AVA). The value of all the assets in the plan, which include investment gains and losses, depending on how the assets are valued.
  3. Unfunded actuarial accrued liability (UAAL). The difference between the total value of assets and accrued liability; the difference between what is owed to all beneficiaries enrolled in the plan and what funds are available to pay out to both current and future beneficiaries.
  4. Annual required contribution (ARC). An annual expense employers pay towards a pension plan made up of two parts: the "normal cost," or the amount paid for benefits earned in that year, and an additional cost that attempts to pay for a portion of the unfunded liabilities from previous years. [2]
  5. Funded ratio. A percentage expressing how fully a pension plan is funded, determined by dividing net assets by accrued liabilities. For example, if a plan has assets of $80 million, but liabilities of $100 million, it is 80 percent funded.
  6. Rate of return . The ratio of money earned or lost on an investment expressed as a percentage of the investment. For example, a $5.00 profit on a $100 investment is a 5 percent rate of return.
  7. Active member. A member of a pension plan either receiving benefits or making contributions.
  8. Inactive member. A member of a pension plan no longer contributing and not yet receiving benefits from that plan.

General information

The table below provides general pension system information for Wisconsin and surrounding states.

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