Last week, the Louisiana legislature concluded its second special session of the year. Sandwiched in between those special sessions was its brief regular session. Despite the ongoing budget challenges there, this was a successful year in the fight to protect pensions.
One of the main issues in the fight to protect pensions in Louisiana is allowing reforms that were already enacted to take effect. Louisiana has made numerous changes to its pensions in the past several years and those changes are already having an impact. The directors of the two largest public pensions in Louisiana recently wrote about these changes and how they have already saved the state $8 billion. At this point, state lawmakers need to let these changes continue to work rather than continuing to tinker with the system.
The Louisiana Public Pension Coalition was also successful this year in defeating two bad pension bills. One would have created a “hybrid” defined contribution system. This would have meant reduced benefits for future public employees. The other would have enacted harsh benefit reductions to newly hired firefighters.
A major success this year was getting a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) passed and signed by the governor. You may remember that the Louisiana legislature passed a COLA last year, but it was vetoed by then-Governor Bobby Jindal in the midst of his ill-fated presidential campaign. The new governor, John Bel Edwards, supports public pensions and signed the COLA bill this year. This is a victory for working families, especially since Louisiana is a state where public employees do not participate in Social Security. This means that for many Louisianans, their pension is their only source of retirement income.
The 2016 legislative sessions in Louisiana were a success for public employees and retirees, but challenges remain. As the state will face continued budget difficulties in the years ahead, we can be certain that attacks on public pensions will return.