Anti-pension ideologues in the Michigan legislature have wanted to gut public pensions there for a long time, especially pensions for teachers. This year, they attacked teachers’ retirement security during the lame duck legislative session, but they were defeated by the strong backlash from working people. This was a victory for working families, but we can be certain that they will try again next year.
The fight over teacher pensions occurred in the Michigan state senate. All year long, a bill- SB 102- lingered in a senate committee, awaiting action. The bill would close the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) and force new hires into a defined contribution 401(k)-style plan. This would be devastating for the retirement security of new teachers, as it was for state employees whose pension plan was closed in 1997. One study found that Michigan state employees participating in the new defined contribution plan had an average account balance of only $50,000– hardly enough for a secure retirement.
On November 30, the Michigan Senate Appropriations Committee passed SB 102 on a 9-8 vote with three Republican senators joining all five Democratic senators in opposing the legislation. The bill was not voted on in the full senate due to overwhelming opposition from working people and concerns about the costs of closing the plan.
One would think that Michigan, of all states, would recognize the harm in closing a public pension plan. In 1997, Michigan closed its pension plan for state employees. When the plan was closed, it was overfunded at 109 percent; however, by 2012, the funding level of the plan plummeted to just 60 percent. This has increased costs for Michigan taxpayers. This is the very reason why Michigan’s Republican governor opposed SB 102- because he recognizes the tremendous costs associated with closing a pension plan.
Working people in Michigan are already organizing to fight back against attacks on pensions next year. The Michigan Coalition for Secure Retirement is the lead organization fighting to protect pensions in the Wolverine State. You can follow them on Facebook here and sign up for their email list here. We all must remain vigilant in order to defend a dignified and secure retirement for working families.