State workers will have to pay for changes to retirement funds

Hearing the chairman of the House Committee on Health and Aging discuss what will be done to prop up the five state retirement systems, it appears the recent in-depth series about public pensions published by Ohio’s major newspapers has resonated with the Republican majority in the General Assembly.

“There’s absolutely no room, philosophically or otherwise, to ask the taxpayers via school levies or income-tax levies or whatever the case may be, to foot a higher bill,” said state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon. “In my opinion, I think the taxpayers are extremely generous already.”

The newspaper series, published in The Vindicator, revealed that the retirement benefits for state workers are not only generally lucrative, but non-beneficiaries contribute a lot to them. There are 1.7 million active and inactive state pension-fund members, beneficiaries and other recipients.

Taxpayers’ share

The employer’s (taxpayers’) contribution ranges from 14 percent of an employees annual salary for teachers and state workers to 26.5 percent for State Highway Patrol members.

Even so, the funds have been hard hit by the economic recession and rising health-care costs, which is why the Republican controlled General Assembly will be taking up legislation to bolster the plans.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, teachers, law-enforcement officers, state workers and other Ohio public employees must give up more than $16 billion to fix the funds.

Achieving balance

Most will have to work longer before they can retire, many will to pay more for their pensions, and some retirees will see reductions in their annual cost-of-living adjustments, the Dispatch reported.

With the Republicans in control of state government, including the governor’s office, any suggestion of taxpayers helping to fill the gaps is dead on arrival. Indeed, earlier versions of the rescue plans could have cost taxpayers $1 billion.

The legislation state Rep. Wachtmann has introduced also targets the double-dippers — public employees who retire, collect pensions and then find other government jobs and earn salaries.

The newspaper series revealed just how extensively state employees are taking advantage of the absence of any legislation to prohibit the practice. But that will change if the Health and Aging Committee chairman has his way.

“We’re going to look at more-comprehensive language that may specifically speak to double-dipping,” said Wachtmann, as quoted by the Dispatch.

Who carries the burden?

While some of the leaders of the employees unions contend that the taxpayer contributions to some pension plans haven’t increased in years, the reality is that in today’s political environment the burden will be borne by the workers.

Republicans, including Gov. John Kasich, have found an issue that resonates with the people of Ohio.

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