The National Public Pension Coalition (NPPC) was created 13 years ago this month out of a need to protect the hard-earned pensions of public employees who dedicated their careers to serving our communities. In that time, we’ve worked with retired public employees, activists, and lawmakers across the country to defend public pensions.
Below we take a look back at some of our victories in the fight for a secure retirement for all.
- Organizing to successfully safeguard public pensions
In 2016, several states considered making drastic changes to their pension systems, all of which were successfully defeated due to the organizing of retirees and activists.
In Oklahoma, a bill that would have weakened the Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma was defeated, and lawmakers passed a bill that created a reserve fund for the state legislature to appropriate extra money for the state’s pension systems. To the southeast of Oklahoma, the Alabama state legislature convened a pension study committee that examined three bills that would have made changes to the state’s pension systems, but all three were ultimately discarded.
Further north in Wisconsin and Kentucky, activists notched two more wins. Legislators in Wisconsin passed SB 134, which allowed municipal governments to join the Wisconsin Retirement System, and legislators in Kentucky increased the state government’s contributions to the pension systems.
- Protecting pensions in Kentucky
In Kentucky, NPPC and the Kentucky Public Pension Coalition (KPPC) have played an important role in supporting public employees and their pensions.
Following years of pension underfunding by the Kentucky legislature, NPPC and KPPC mobilized in 2017 when former Gov. Matt Bevin introduced a plan that would have placed newly hired public employees into 401(k)s, slashed teacher pay, and cut cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for retirees. He also asked an actuarial firm to evaluate the costs of his proposed plan and kept the results hidden from public view. Bevin went to such great lengths to keep the costs hidden that his administration sued KPPC’s coordinator Ellen Suetholz when she tried to file a Freedom of Information Act request to review them. After threatening to call a special session to pass his plan, Bevin ultimately backtracked on the idea.
Then, in 2018, we mobilized again when the Kentucky legislature introduced SB 1, a bill that would’ve placed all newly hired teachers into a cash balance plan (which combines elements of a defined-contribution plan with a defined-benefit plan, which offer a less secure retirement for workers). Massive protests and pushback from public educators, however, prompted the legislature to scrap this plan at first.
Later that year, however, lawmakers covertly re-introduced this anti-pension language in SB 151, a bill originally intended for wastewater treatment. In a span of just eight hours, without the public being able to see the bill, the legislature passed SB 151 and it was signed into law by the governor. Before it could be implemented, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in December 2018 that the law was unconstitutional after the Attorney General, Fraternal Order of Police, and the Kentucky Education Association sued to stop it.
- Fighting for COLAs so no retiree is left financially behind
COLAs are important because they help retirees keep up with the pace of inflation, which greatly increases the costs of everyday necessities like groceries, healthcare, housing, and transportation over time.
Since our inception, we’ve organized in Oklahoma, Texas, New Hampshire, and Wyoming to advocate for the passage of COLAs. In each of these states, retirees had not received COLAs in years, and we supported activists in communicating with their lawmakers about the importance of receiving one.
On May 21, in part due to the advocacy of another one of our coalition partners, Keep Oklahoma’s Promises, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitts signed into law the state’s first COLA in 12 years. In New Hampshire and Texas, we helped our coalitions in each state mobilize their members in the fight for a COLA as well. The coalitions’ efforts led to both states granting retirees one-time 13th checks, with New Hampshire granting one in 2018 and Texas in 2019. These 13th checks were a critical step in addressing this long-overdue financial need for retirees, and New Hampshire eventually granted a COLA in 2019.
In other states, like Wyoming, we have worked in partnership with our coalition in-state to spread the word about the importance of a COLA. In Wyoming, the state’s retired public employees have also not received a COLA in 12 years.
- Educating both lawmakers and the public about the importance of defined-benefit pensions.
Our mission at NPPC also includes educating legislators and the general public “on the impact of pensions, not just for the public worker, but for the community and economy at larger.” It is critical for us to share accurate information about public pensions because opponents like the Reason Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts spread misinformation, biased research, and falsehoods to damage public employees’ retirement security in states like Iowa and Kentucky.
Over the past 13 years, we have developed numerous resources to combat this misinformation. From one-pagers that explain the differences between defined-benefit and defined-contribution plans to graphics illustrating the economic impact of pensions, members utilize our educational efforts across social media and email to push back against misleading claims on retirement security. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve also corrected the record on how anti-pension organizations like Reason have falsely cited the pandemic-induced economic crisis to justify their attacks on public pensions.
In this time of great uncertainty, we couldn’t be prouder to be involved in the fight to protect the most secure form of retirement; a defined-benefit pension. We hope you’ll join us in the next 13 years and beyond in the fight for every American to retire with dignity by signing up for our email list and following us on Facebook and Twitter.