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Another US Pension Fund Ready To Bust

PHOTO CREDIT Kevin Zolkiewicz FLICKR
PHOTO CREDIT Kevin Zolkiewicz FLICKR

The MBTA retirement system’s unfunded pension obligation is about to increase again.

Just four months after the last adjustment, the gap between future retiree benefits and the money available to pay them is expected to rise to $944 million, according to estimates the T’s chief administrator plans to present at a public meeting Monday.

The new figure is up $129 million for 2015, based on the pension fund’s new actuarial approach, which eases the impact of bad years. Without using that method, the unfunded liability goes up to nearly $1.1 billion, according to the T.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is still awaiting the pension fund’s financial valuations for last year. But if the estimates prove accurate, the pension fund, with $1.5 billion in assets and $2.6 billion in future obligations, is now just 58 percent funded.

In the retirement world, falling below 60 percent often brings greater pressure to improve investment performance — or cut costs.

“This is the time for us to take a hard look at the sustainability of our pension [fund] at current benefit levels and engage in a collaborative discussion with all the stakeholders,’’ said Brian Shortsleeve, the T’s administrator.

Shortsleeve and the Baker administration are trying to persuade the T’s pension board to consider moving the assets into the state pension fund. That fund is far larger, at $60.4 billion, and has the benefit of scale when it comes to expenses and securing top managers.

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