CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Supreme Court is lowering its budget request by $2.2 million for next year.
Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury notified the chairmen of the House and Senate finance committees about the change Monday morning.
Canterbury said better than expected investment returns in the Judicial Retirement System is the chief reason for the lower request.
Both the state and individual judges contribute to that system, with judges chipping in 10.5 percent of their salaries. The state is required by law to chip in the same.
In 2005, the state was hoping to decrease some of the unfunded liabilities in public employee pension systems. During that budget year, accountants gave the Supreme Court a payment schedule that was designed to bring the Judicial Retirement Fund into balance.
Beginning in the 2007 budget year, the Supreme Court began contributing more than was necessary — about $1.7 million per year — to bring the unfunded liability down faster, Canterbury said.
He said that was following the example of Gov. Joe Manchin and the state Legislature, who were also working to bring pension liabilities down as fast as possible.
In less than a decade, the court was able to achieve that goal.
"The unfunded liability in the Judicial Retirement System no longer exists," Canterbury wrote to the finance chairmen.
In fact, the retirement system is now over-funded by more than 30 percent.
Canterbury said the investment fund's performance has dramatically beat expectations in the past two years.
But since the court doesn't receive the final report on pension fund performance until January — well after the court has prepared its budget proposal for inclusion in the governor's budget bill — Canterbury said officials didn't realize just how over-funded the system was.
He said the recent actuarial report on the fund factoring in investment performance showed the court didn't need to put the extra $1.7 million in during 2010 and 2011.
"We were shooting for 100 percent of funding," Canterbury said. "Had the investments been flat, we would have been a little over 100 percent."
The January report showed the fund's investments outperformed by $28 million, making up virtually all of the current over-funding in the pension fund.
Because there was a long delay from the time actuaries estimated how the fund would perform until the Supreme Court finally learned how it performed, officials didn't know until recently they no longer had to chip in the extra amount.