Ohio lawmakers near vote on reform to public pensions
By Marc Kovac
Lawmakers plan to return to the Statehouse next week to vote on long-discussed pension reforms for public employees.
Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton and chairman of the House subcommittee that has had hearings in recent weeks on the legislation, said he expects the panel and the full House Health and Aging Committee to sign off on the proposals on Monday with a floor vote by midweek.
“Right now, we seem to be on the path towards House approval on the 12th [Wednesday],” Schuring told reporters following Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting at the Statehouse. “The Senate is working on possibly coming in on the 12th as well.”
The bills would change benefits for retirees connected to the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund, the School Employees Retirement System, the State Teachers Retirement System, the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System and the Highway Patrol Retirement System.
The legislation includes a number of changes to eligibility, cost-of-living increases and other retirement benefits in a way that generally allows those closer to retirement to be covered under existing guidelines and those farther away receiving potentially reduced benefits.
“This is really something we’re doing from an actuarial standpoint where we’re trying to save money for the systems through reducing pension benefits ... and then paying down the unfunded liability and taking part of it to bolster the health-care insurance fund as well,” Schuring said.
Representatives from each of the pension systems have told Schuring’s subcommittee that they supported amendments added so far in the House.
Laurel Johnson, government relations officer for the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio, said the amendments offered “no substantial changes” from the Senate version of the legislation, adding, “We are confident that our member and retiree advocacy groups are supportive of the substitute bill.”
Michael Nehf, executive director of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, said the changes would save the system more than $11.6 billion in accrued liabilities.
“The plan increases age and service requirements for retirement; calculates pensions on a lower, fixed formula; increases the period for determining final average salary; increases member contributions to the system; reduces the cost-of-living adjustment; defers the COLA for future retirees; and calls for no COLA to be added in fiscal year 2014,” he said.
Schuring said, as the bills are currently written, the effective date of the legislation would be Jan. 7, giving the systems time to prepare and affected retirees to understand the changes.