A Drop in Hawaii’s Funding Ratio Ratings Will Hurt the State

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BY MALIA HILL – I’m thinking that I’m going to have to start posting pictures of kittens or puppies or cute island babies in this space soon.  Because reporting on the state pension crisis is becoming such a downer, we may just have to resort to the occasional pick-me-up just to soften the blow a little.


As you may have guessed, there’s more bad news for Hawaii’s pension system.  Greg Wiles of the Hawaii Reporter has written an article explaining what the changes being made by Fitch Ratings (one of three major US credit ratings agencies) in the way it evaluates pension funding means for Hawaii. Allow me to sum it up–it’s not good.

The adjustments being made by Fitch are intended to help valuation of pension programs, including measuring different state pension funds against each other.  Under the new valuation system, Hawaii’s funding ratio (previously measured at 64.6%) could slip as low as 55.7%.

Fitch considers 70% to be an adequate funded ratio, while anything below 60% is considered weak.  The ratings slide has the potential to hurt the state’s efforts to sell bonds for major projects like roads, airport construction, and the like, as investors will likely demand higher interest rates.  Boy, isn’t it great that we’re building that light rail?  Awesome timing on that.

And let’s not forget that Moody’s (another ratings agency) just listed Hawaii as having the second-worst pension debt in the country.  I’m all for Hawaii leading other states, but not in unfunded pension liability.

Abercrombie has pledged to address the pension crisis, and there is a pending bill before the legislature that would take the (somewhat small) step of downgrading the amount that the state assumes the pension fund investments will earn annually from 8% to 7.75%.

Before we throw a party over that minor victory, consider that Fitch considers 7% a more realistic basis.  And then there’s the fact that this still doesn’t come close to responding the scope of the problem.  The good news?  Well . . . um . . . did I tell you about the cute thing my puppy did the other day?