The Philadelphia Pension Board received the grim news this week when it learned the pension fund lost $218 million of its value in fiscal year 2015.

That did not stop the board from approving $7.7 million in pension bonuses to retirees next year.

Why would the board approve such a payout from the fund that is more than $5.7 billion short in its obligations? Because it is required to, thanks to legislation that was sponsored by now-Mayor Kenney in 2007 when he was a city councilman.

This will be the second year in a row such bonuses are given out. Last year, the board approved $62 million in bonuses.

Kenney's legislation allows retirees to get a bonus any time the five-year average return for the pension fund is 1 percentage point higher than the 7.8 percent assumed rate of return.

The money comes from the Pension Adjustment Fund, created in 1999 as a way of providing cost-of-living boosts to retirees. What Kenney's legislation did, though, was remove the requirement that the pension fund be at least 76.7 percent funded before the bonuses are paid. Over the last two years, the pension - which has $10.7 billion in obligations - had less than half that in assets.

The city's fiscal watchdog Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority has called for the elimination of the pension bonuses. Good government group Committee of Seventy on Thursday also called the bonuses "ill-advised."

"The $620 million or so annual payment to the fund ... is already eating us alive," David Thornburgh, CEO of Committee of Seventy, said, referencing the city's annual payment to the pension fund. "Adding another $8 million on top of that seems ill-advised and makes the Mayor's job of achieving his agenda all that much tougher."

But Kenney - who calls the payments a cost of living adjustment rather than a bonus - still stands by his legislation.

"We have elected officials who are getting $10,000, $12,000, $13,000 a month plus taking a $500,000 DROP payment, and that's not OK, either - but these folks are struggling," Kenney said. "The pension fund managers got paid whether they lost money or not so it would seem - at the time this bill was passed ... we were doing well - but it doesn't mean people struggling on fixed-income pensions in the city should have to struggle as a result of it when we over-perform for five consecutive years."

The city's actuaries presented their preliminary report on the city's 2015 earnings to the board Thursday. The return on investment was a mere 0.3 percent, much lower than the fund's assumed 7.8 percent rate of return.

(In addition to the lackluster 0.3 percent return, the fund also paid out $850 million to 36,000 retirees and received only $606 million in contributions, some from the 28,000 workers supporting the system.)

But because the investment returns had been high in recent years, the five-year average was 9.13 percent and therefore the bonuses could go out.

The pension board hardly discussed the issue and approved to disburse the $7.7 million to retirees next year. Retirees with at least 10 years out, will be receiving the second part of their $62 million in bonuses (approved last year) this year. Therefore, the board wanted to move this year's payout, though not as much, to next year.

The pension board also approved Thursday to lower the assumed rate of return to 7.75 percent down from 7.8 percent.



Staff writer Julia Terruso contributed to this article.