Financial Health of Iowa
by Jennifer L. Crull
Truth in Accounting provides an annual report about the financial health of Iowa and all 49 other states. The last time we reported on this issue, Iowa was ranked 8th in the nation and our financial burden per taxpayer was a surplus of $100 per taxpayer. As we look at the report for the 2014 year, Iowa is now ranked 9th, but our tax burden has now increased to $400 per taxpayer.
As state governments continue to recover from the recession, states are working to decrease their debt and increase the money they have available to pay their bills. In 2013, there were eight states that had a surplus per taxpayer. This year that number has increased to nine. The following table shows the top nine states from 2012 and 2013 and the taxpayers’ surplus. The table on page three includes all 50 states and the average for the 50 states.
The report has the following positive points about our state:
The negative point of the report is about the lack of transparency concerning retirement benefits in the state. This means that almost 90 percent of retirement liabilities are not clearly disclosed on the balance sheet for the state. Truth in Accounting discovered:
a total of $2.4 billion of retirement benefits have been promised but not funded. Because of the confusing way the state does its accounting, only $253.4 million of these liabilities are reported on Iowa’s balance sheet.
They also pointed out that:
unfunded employees’ retirement benefits represent 27% of State bills. These unfunded liabilities have accumulated because State employees have been promised $1.9 billion of pension benefits and $580.8 million of retirees’ health-care benefits.
As one can read, the state of Iowa’s financial situation continues to improve, but we still need to work on the issue of properly reporting liabilities concerning retirement obligations in the state. The following table shows the reported versus unreported retirement liabilities.
While Iowa’s surplus per taxpayer isn’t as high as other states, it is important to note that in 2010 our taxpayer burden was $500. So Iowa has worked hard in the last four years to take a state that was in a financial spiral and get the budget back in line and keep expenditures in check. Now it is important for the state to focus on the pension system in Iowa. First off the state needs to do a better job of reporting the liabilities of the pension system. The following paragraph from the report speaks to the need for better transparency in the pension systems:
A detailed study of Iowa’s actuaries’ schedules found retirement benefits totaling $2.4 billion have been promised, but not funded. A review of the State’s balance sheet determined only $253.4 million of these liabilities are reported. This means the State does not report $2.2 billion of retirement liabilities on its balance sheet.
This means from last year to this year unreported retirement liabilities have increased from $1.9 billion to $2.2 billion. This represents an increase of 15.8 percent. We have to do something about this before it starts to have a negative impact on our state financial health.
Take the time to ask your Representative or Senator about what his or her plans are concerning the pension system in Iowa. If we don’t demand more transparency concerning this issue, how will the state know to change the way they report the information? For while we do have the money to pay our bills now, that doesn’t mean we will in ten years. The only way to ensure that we can meet the obligations of the pension system is if they are openly reported and fully funded.
 “Iowa,” Truth in Accounting, State Data Lab, <http://www.statedatalab.org/state_data_and_comparisons/detail/iowa> accessed on September 17, 2014.
 “The 2013 Financial State of the States,” Institute for Truth in Accounting, July 31, 2014, p. 11, <http://www.statedatalab.org/library/doclib/2013FSOS.pdf> accessed on September 23, 2014.
 “Iowa State of State,” Truth in Accounting, State Data Lab, <http://www.statedatalab.org/library/doclib/IA-2013-FSOS.pdf > accessed on September 11, 2014.
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