The Maryland Public Policy Institute
Navigation: To zoom in on one county, click either the county name or the corresponding dot on the map. To go back to viewing the entire map and data set, do not use your browser's "Back" button. If you clicked a dot on the map, just click elsewhere on the map. If you clicked a county name in the graph below, click on the "County" heading above. If you experience problems with the map or cannot get back to its default display, simply refresh this page.
Download all the data that went into this map (and more): Project: Pensions Data (Full)
This map focuses on two key pieces of information: the total amount of money spent on pensions and other post-employment benefits (OPEBs) only in the most recent fiscal year and the unfunded liabilities (UAALs) created by pensions and OPEBs in total up to this point. It is important to keep this distinction in mind when viewing the data -- as well as the fact that we included Board of Education (BOE) expenditures when collecting data for this project, which are technically a separate entity from the counties and mostly a state expense.
The “Total Spent on Pensions/OPEB” (column on the right) is not a running total of all taxpayer dollars devoted to pensions and benefits over the years. These are the amounts spent by the counties of Maryland this year and this year alone. These figures were collected from each county’s 2011* Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), and it is important to note that some of these figures actually understate the amounts spent on pensions and benefits. This is because CAFRs are not fully standardized, and some counties include more information than others.
Additionally, one must keep in mind that the UAAL vs. AAL portion of the display (column on the left) gives a much more accurate representation of the health of a pension/benefit system because it takes into account the entire lifetime of a fund rather than this one year. The red bar indicates the size of the liability incurred by a pension system and the black line on the bar indicates the amount that is hitherto unfunded. The further left this black line appears, the better, as it means that county is on a better track to meeting its obligations. Unfortunately, most counties have unfunded liabilites in excess of 50%.
*We had to use 2009 data for Baltimore City, as neither a 2010 nor 2011 CAFR was available on their finance department website.
Pension -- A source of income to be received upon retirement, funded through money invested by both the employer and the employee throughout the course of a career. Most private sector pensions are defined contribution, meaning that employees/employers put aside a set amount per year and the employee is entitled to the resulting sum, which can vary greatly depending on market performance. By contrast, most public sector pensions are defined benefit, meaning that employees are guaranteed certain benefits upon retirement, regardless of market performance.
OPEB -- Other Post-Employment Benefits refer to any deferred compensation that an employee earns besides pensions, including (but not limited to) healthcare benefits and life insurance. In some cases, these benefits can actually far outstrip pensions in terms of costs to employers (especially due to the rapidly increasing cost of health care). This is, unfortunately, the case with Maryland state and local county employees.
AAL and UAAL -- Actuarial Accrued Liabilities (and Unfunded Actuarial Accrued Liabilities) are slightly more complex, but can be thought of rather simply. Because the various local governments in Maryland have agreed to offer their employees certain pensions and benefits upon retirement, they have in essence created a liability; in other words a promised amount that must be paid at a future date. The AAL is the total predicted cost of these promises. The UAAL represents the portion of these costs that is currently unfunded. In a perfect world, UAALs should be as small as possible.