Senate Pension panel gets support for ‘major reforms’

Legislative Staff Release

Published 03-Mar-2011

Legislators in Oklahoma City continued to work this week on a plan that will address Oklahoma’s $16 billion of unfunded pension liability.  The Senate Select Committee on Pensions met Thursday (March 3) to discuss major reforms to Oklahoma’s system and listen to input from experts within various pensions affected by the current system.

According to a legislative staff release sent to CapitolBeatOK, the Senate is targeting reforms that will “guarantee current workers receive all of the benefits that were promised them when they entered the system.”

Among the ideas presented, committee members applauded a plan to require that cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, be funded before they can be implemented. According to Senate staff, “Actuarial analysis determines that Oklahoma’s unfunded teacher pension liability would drop from $10.4 billion to $7.5 billion immediately.”

Committee members agreed that employees deserve to have COLAs and that they equally deserve to have COLAs that are funded. 

Chairman of the committee, Sen. Mike Mazzei, a Tulsa Republican, said that Oklahoma’s dedicated teachers, state employees, police officers and firefighters deserve to have legislation that addresses the issue without taking away promises that were previously made. “We are going to honor the contract we have with current employees,” said Mazzei.

Sen. Sean Burrage, a Claremore Democrat, said that Oklahoma has an opportunity to put our state pensions on a road to solvency and be the envy of the nation. “We are coming together with a consensus that we cannot continue to put our state workers in this position,” said Burrage.

“We are addressing this issue with respect to the workers and the taxpayer and I appreciate the honesty and frank discussions each side has presented.”

Sen. Brian Crain, a Tulsa Republican, said that of the state’s six pension plans, four were in what staff deemed “reasonably good shape.” Crain said, “The firefighters and teachers retirement systems are the two that require the closest attention. Senator Mazzei’s committee is working to keep what’s good in our pension plans and to correct what isn’t.”

Goals of the Select Committee on Pensions include:

• Reduce Oklahoma’s unfunded pension liability
• Avoid the risk of a massive tax hike
• Avoid budget cuts to pay for unfunded liabilities
• Propose reforms that establish a stable, long-term pension model for Oklahoma.