Pending House bill would end special status for association execs

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 05-Mar-2010

Legislation pending before the Oklahoma House of Representatives could end special status given to association executives of certain non-government groups in the Sooner State’s underfunded teacher retirement program.

State Rep. Sally Kern of Oklahoma City, a Republican and former public school teacher, is sponsoring the measure.

House Bill 3108 would remove the following language now in state law, [70 O.S. 2001 Section 17-116-2, as last amended by Section 122, chapter 1. O.S.L. 2005 (70 O.S. Supp. 2009, Section 17-116.2)]:

“Any member who shall be absent from the teaching service because of election or appointment as a local, state or national education association officer shall be allowed to retain his or her membership in the Teachers’ Retirement System upon payment of the contribution required of other members and employers of said members as provided for in this section and his or her service credits shall continued to be accumulated during such absence. Provided, however, any such absence shall not exceed eight (8) continuous years. No members who has less than ten (10) years of contributory service on July 1, 1994, may make this election after June 30, 1994. Members contributing to the System on July 1, 1994, may continue to contribute under this subsection until they have completed eight (8) years allowed by this subsection. The member may file for retirement when otherwise eligible for retirement as provided by Section 17-105 of this title. Conditioned upon receiving a favorable determination letter or private letter ruling from the Internal Revenue Service, the eligible absence and participation continuation in the Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma pursuant to this subsection shall be increased to twelve (12) years. The Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma shall make any necessary efforts in obtaining an Internal Revenue Service determination letter or private letter ruling concerning such increase.”

That current language has allowed top officers in several education associations, including the Oklahoma Education Association and the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA), to leave the teaching profession yet retain the status in the state Teachers Retirement System.

While debate on the measure has thus far largely taken place outside of broad public scrutiny, H.B. 3108 had begun to get attention from some beneficiaries of the current arrangement. Some members of the Oklahoma Education Association were working the halls of the state Capitol on Thursday.

The House of Representatives adjourned Thursday afternoon (March 4) without acting on the proposal. Next week is the deadline for House proposals to clear the lower house and head to the Senate.

A recent study from the Pew Center on the States concluded Oklahoma’s “seven state-administered pension systems had a combined funding level of 60.7 percent in fiscal year 2008, a total liability of $33.5 billion and an unfunded liability that was 219 percent of total payroll. During the 1980s and 1990s Oklahoma increased benefits, but did not boost contributions enough to offset those increased liabilities.”

Sheila Weinberg of the Institute for Truth in Accounting, a Northbrook, Illinois research group said the 61-page Pew report illustrates problems in state pension and retirement systems. Weinberg, founder and CEO of the Institute, last week told CapitolBeatOK that the Pew Center’s findings are typical of patterns across the nation.