By this point in the year, many state legislatures have either already finished their 2016 session or will conclude within the next couple weeks. For working families and retirees, the news has been mostly good so far. Legislatures in several states have acted to improve state pension systems. Let’s take a look at what has happened so far:
- Oklahoma: despite the ongoing budget crisis in state, the Oklahoma legislature did not attack the state pension systems this year. A very harmful bill that would have de-professionalized teaching in the state and would have weakened the teacher pension system was defeated. Furthermore, the legislature passed the Pension Improvement Act, which creates a reserve fund into which the legislature can contribute extra funds for the pensions.
- Wisconsin: the legislature in Wisconsin voted this year to expand access to public pensions. Senate Bill 134 allows municipalities not currently participating in the Wisconsin Retirement System to join the state pension. This is a win for firefighters, librarians, and other public employees working toward a secure retirement.
- Kentucky: there was surprising good news in the commonwealth this year. New Governor Matt Bevin had indicated during the campaign that he was open to closing the state pension plans and forcing new employees into a defined contribution 401(k)-style system. Instead of gutting Kentucky’s pensions, the state legislature actually increased the state’s contributions into the severely underfunded pension systems.
- Alabama: another unexpected victory for working families came in Alabama, where the legislature had convened a pension study committee to examine potential changes to the state pension systems. The committee considered three bills, but did not pass any of them. Not only that, but state legislators are beginning to wise up to the anti-pension rhetoric they’ve been sold. As state rep. Randall Shedd said: “I felt like we were just being spoon fed information from the national organizations who are intent on phasing out pension plans across America.”
Other states acted to maintain retirement security for working families as well. The Indiana legislature defeated a bill that would have harmed the teacher pension system. Missouri did not pass any anti-pension legislation, despite considering a number of other anti-worker bills. Last week, the Louisiana legislature passed a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for its retirees. This is particularly significant for retirees there since public employees in Louisiana do not participate in Social Security.