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Pension accounting change could hurt schools, cities

An accounting change for Fiscal Year 2015 requiring Oklahoma cities and schools to list their share of the state's $11.4 billion pension debt may affect bond issues.
by Randy Ellis Modified: November 10, 2013 at 10:00 am •  Published: November 10, 2013

A scheduled accounting change in the way governmental entities must treat pension debt has local city and school financial officers sweating potential higher borrowing costs.

Beginning in Fiscal Year 2015, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board is set to require many Oklahoma schools and cities to list millions of dollars of pension debt on their financial statements even though they “don't owe it” and “can't legally pay it,” said state Auditor Gary Jones.

“It could be devastating for the schools. It could be devastating for the cities,” Jones said.

That should concern taxpayers, since the change could potentially prompt credit rating agencies to downgrade the credit ratings of Oklahoma cities and schools. That, in turn, could lead to higher interest rates on bond issues that taxpayers would have to finance, he said.

State Treasurer Ken Miller said he and other Oklahoma State Pension Commission officials were concerned enough about the situation that in September 2011 they sent a letter to Governmental Accounting Standards Board officials asking for changes in the proposal.

State treasurers, as a group, also have voiced unified opposition to the accounting change, he said.

Jones said the only way he knows to possibly stop it now is through special legislation.

“We need for the Legislature to look at creating what's called a special funding situation that basically says this pension obligation rests with the state and we're not going to push it down to somebody that doesn't owe it,” he said.

At issue is who is truly financially responsible for about $11.4 billion in pension debt accumulated by the state's seven retirement systems.

Jones said state statutes and a state Supreme Court ruling say the State of Oklahoma is responsible for all the pension fund debt, not individual cities and school districts.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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