Welcome to the latest edition of This Week in Pensions! This is the news you need to know in the fight for a secure retirement. We have gathered the top stories about pensions and retirement security from the previous week.
ICYMI: Hidden Agendas: Is Secure Illinois Retirements a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing? provides an in-depth look at the Equable Institute-related organization, Secure Illinois Retirements (SIR), and the dangerous anti-pension narrative they’re pushing on public employees. As dark money continues to float anti-pension policy, we remain dedicated to uncovering the hidden agendas behind groups that claim to be labor and worker-focused.
Alaska continues to struggle with a public service delivery crisis as its state employment numbers remain stagnant. This week it came to light that staffing issues in the state’s payroll department have led to mistakes and delays in paychecks for state employees. More than 14,000 people are potentially affected by the dire staffing situation, all dependent on a department that has had a vacancy rate of “around 45% for some time,” according to Chief of Staff Tyson Gallagher. While the department seeks to outsource temporary assistance, the cost to the state is more than just monetary. Jordan Adams of LIUNA Local 71 spoke about the payroll issues and the effect they have on employee retention, saying, “The payroll department has been stretched so thinly that in some instances, we have hired new transportation workers who didn’t even get paid for six weeks. That’s unacceptable. When we can fill these positions with qualified workers, we can’t hold on to them if the state doesn’t pay them.”
State officials and union leadership are working on solutions, including more competitive pay and the reinstatement of a defined-benefit pension. The payroll department is just one of many that are suffering vacancies. Hubbard ferry captain Gabriel Baylous told Sen. Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg during their recent visit that lack of pay and benefits are affecting ferry service on the Alaska Marine Highway.
“Peers are going to cruise ships,” he said. “I still have a pension, but my peers that don’t have the pension are like, ‘it’s a no-brainer,’” Baylous said.
On Wednesday, Oklahoma Public Employee Retirement System (OPERS) Trustees voted to legally circumvent a new state law barring state pension systems from doing business with certain banks. In a June 1st letter, referenced in a Journal Record article this week, Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System Executive Director Ginger Sigler wrote, “The treasurer’s inclusion of certain companies on the list of Restricted Financial Companies is arbitrary. The underlying basis for placement on the list has not been disclosed.”
Sigler was referring to the blacklist crafted by state Treasurer Todd Russ following the passage of House Bill 2034 last year. Russ’s office released the initial version of the banned list in May. It included major banks and mainstream investment firms BlackRock Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America, N.A., and State Street Corp, among others. Russ has received generous policy and PR support from the State Financial Officers Foundation, a Kansas-based nonprofit that works hand in hand with ALEC and the Heritage Foundation, providing officials like Russ with talking points and messaging.
Beyond pensions, the bill may cost Oklahoma millions of dollars in other ways as well. The city of Stillwater, OK was forced to pause a major project after their preferred lender – Bank of America – was blacklisted. The next-best bank loan offer would have cost the city an extra $1.2 million.
New Hampshire police departments, like others across the nation, are faced with dangerous staffing shortages, and officials suspect one major factor at play: retirement benefits. In 2011, the New Hampshire Retirement System (NHRS) introduced a new tier for first responders, increasing vesting requirements and raising the minimum retirement age, causing a retention gap that is becoming increasingly problematic as senior police officers and firefighters leave the workforce in retirement. Currently, the New Hampshire Troopers Association reports a 20% vacancy rate. “That’s going to be a problem for communities across the state,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Donna Soucy.
Be sure to check back next Friday for the latest news in the fight for a secure retirement! For now, sign up for NPPC News Clips to receive daily pension news from across the country directly to your inbox.