South Dakota’s public employee retirement system is among the best in the nation, thanks to a unique governance structure and conservative fiscal management. At the end of FY21, the South Dakota Retirement System (SDRS) had $14.6 billion in assets and $13.9 billion in accrued liability.
SDRS is governed by a 17-member Board of Trustees, as specified in state law. Board members are elected from those who are directly involved in the system, such as state employees and teachers, county and city employees, public safety personnel, judges, the Board of Regents, and a retiree. The board also includes two appointees of the Governor and a representative from the State Investment Council who is an ex officio nonvoting member of the board.
The South Dakota Investment Council was established by the Legislature 50 years ago to manage the investment of the financial assets of the State of South Dakota. These include the public retirement system assets, public trust funds, and other financial assets. In some states, retirement system investments are managed as a subsidiary of the public pension system.
State law specifies that employees and employers make equal contributions to the system, with most statutorily set at six percent of compensation. Justices and judges contribute nine percent, and all other Class B (or public safety) members contribute eight percent. These rates are among the lowest in the nation.
In FY21, SDRS paid $635 million to benefit recipients. Nearly 90% of benefits paid stay within South Dakota.
Every year, the board of trustees looks at the financial status of the system to determine the Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for benefit recipients. State law allows the COLA to be anywhere from 0% to 3.5%. Because of strong investment returns last year, the July 2022 COLA will be the maximum amount allowed.
While the 3.5% is below the inflation rate, it will the largest in the history of the system, and will be one of the highest in the nation. The SDRS Board of Trustees has taken steps the past several years to ensure the long-term viability of our state’s retirement system. Among these are analyzing the affordability of any COLA and analyzing the actuarial factors of member demographics and workforce issues.
I am privileged to serve on the Senate Retirement Laws committee. If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.