IRS opens determination letter process for governmental plans
(Posted on February 1, 2015 by )


irsIn recent years, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has been allowing plan sponsors to request determination letters on the qualified status of their retirement plans only during certain periods (cycles). For individually designed governmental plans, such a cycle (Cycle E) opened on February 1, 2015, and will remain open until January 31, 2016. Read more

A “qualified” plan is a retirement plan that meets all of the requirements of Internal Revenue Code section 401(a) to obtain certain tax benefits. There are alternative ways of obtaining favorable tax status for a retirement plan, such as Internal Revenue Code section 403(b) (tax-sheltered annuities and custodial accounts), 457(b) deferred compensation plans, or individual retirement accounts or annuities. The determination letter process applies only to qualified plans.
Prototype (volume submitter) plans designed for adoption by a variety of employers are subject to different deadlines, which vary depending on whether they are defined benefit or defined contribution plans. However, such plans are rare in the governmental context.

Determination Letters for Governmental Plans Don’t Address Pick-Up Contributions and Excess Benefit Arrangements
(Posted on January 23, 2015 by )


irsThe IRS has issued a reminder that governmental plan sponsors who apply for IRS determination letters covering the qualified status of their plans can’t rely on a favorable letter for whether:

  • contributions made to the plan are the employer’s “pick-up contributions” (i.e., pretax employee contributions under section 414(h)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code), or
  • the plan has a qualified governmental excess benefit arrangement (i.e., a separate trust that provides only a participant’s annual benefit in excess of the limits under Internal Revenue Code section 415).

Read more

Judge in Detroit Bankruptcy Case Denies Any Special Protections for Pensions
(Posted on December 5, 2013 by )


BankruptcyCourtJudge Steven W. Rhodes of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan had now issued an opinion stating that the bankruptcy proceedings for the City of Detroit can go forward. The opinion provided no special protections for as yet unfunded pension benefits (although benefits already in the pension funds were protected). The judge rejected a contention that Michigan constitutional provisions prohibiting impairment of pensions would provide protection to promised but unfunded benefits.

Read more.

“No . . . law impairing the obligation of contract shall be enacted.” [Article I, Section 10, Michigan Constitution]

“The accrued financial benefits of each pension plan and retirement system of the state and its political subdivisions shall be a contractual obligation thereof which shall not be diminished or impaired thereby.” [Article IX, Section 24, Michigan Constitution]

California Public Pension Ballot Initiative Would Eliminate Vested Right to Future Benefit Accruals
(Posted on October 16, 2013 by )


CaliforniaA California statewide ballot initiative proposal, The Pension Reform Act of 2014 was filed on October 15, 2013. The proposal if passed would amend the California constitution to provide that employees have no vested rights in future pension and retiree health benefit accruals, but only to benefits accrued based on past employment. As such, it would cause the vesting of public retirement plans in California to be more comparable to the vesting of private retirement plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). The proposal, if adopted, would be particularly significant inasmuch as California has historically been a leader in the recognition of the right of public employees to vesting in future benefit accruals.

Read more.

California Superior Court Finds Vested Right to Retiree Health Benefits
(Posted on September 23, 2013 by )


CaliforniaPension plans of businesses and most tax-exempt organizations are subject to federal rules which permit them to discontinue accruals of benefits at any time, so long as previously accrued benefits are preserved. (Internal Revenue Code section 411.) By contrast, pension plans of governmental employers are typically subject to protections under court decisions based on federal or state constitutions provisions forbidding the “impairment of contracts,” which may require the preservation of not only past but future benefit accruals. The leading cases in this area come from California, although courts in other states have often looked to them in interpreting similar constitutional provisions in other states. See, e.g., Betts v. Board of Administration, 21 Cal.3d 859, 864 (1978).

Starting in 2011, California courts have begun applying similar reasoning to the provision of retiree health benefits, as well as pension benefits. In Retired Employees v. Co. of Orange, 52 Cal. 4th 1171, 266 P.3d 287, 134 Cal. Rptr. 3d 779 (2011), the California Supreme Court held that

under California law, a vested right to health benefits for retired county employees can be implied under certain circumstances from a county ordinance or resolution. Whether those circumstances exist in this case is beyond the scope of the question posed to us by the Ninth Circuit.

A recent case from the Los Angeles Superior Court, Los Angeles City Attorneys Association v. City of Los Angeles has provided additional guidance on this issue, although it seems to raise as many questions as it answers.

Read more.

Deadline to Submit Opinion and Advisory Letter Applications for Defined Benefit Mass Submitter Plans Extended
(Posted on August 19, 2013 by )


Internal Revenue ServiceToday’s Internal Revenue Bulletin includes Announcement 2013-37, which extends the date for filing defined benefit mass submitter lead plans to the IRS from October 31, 2013 to January 31, 2014. This deadline parallels the deadline for other master and prototype defined benefit plans, and is the same as the deadline for individually designed plans that are on Cycle C (including all governmental plans) and volume submitter defined benefit plans.