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Board on the job: public-pension governance in the United States (US) states

  • John Brooks (a1)

Although elected officials have the final say over pensions, boards of trustees also influence plan governance. Not a great deal is known about boards or how they shape policies. Boards are composed of politically and nonpolitically appointed members, as well as active and retired employees. Plan active-employee size turns out to be the best predictor of membership, suggesting that employee voice expands as plans cover more workers. Using both fixed effects and instrumental variables approaches, I show how boards shape plans’ policies and funded levels. Active and retired members shape discount rates, whereas active membership is positively associated with funded ratios. Interestingly, gridlock is also associated with higher discount rates. However, I find that plans’ actual investment returns are poor predictors of expected returns, irrespective of board composition. Although boards offer a venue through which states can manage funds, they are not suited to solving pensions’ governance challenges alone.

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