Do you remember your teachers, custodians and “lunch ladies” from your school days? Many are retired now, and the oldest of them are in Public Employees Retirement System 1 or Teacher Retirement System 1, living on fixed incomes while taxes and health care costs spiral. We hope that an improving economy “lifts all boats” but these seniors float in a leaking dinghy.
All 11 other state retirement plans provide annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). Ten are capped at 3 percent; while Law Enforcement & Firefighters’ Plan 1 provides an unlimited COLA equal to the rate of inflation.
From 1995 to 2010, Plan 1 members received a discretionary COLA, at the pleasure of the Legislature. Retirees had to reach age 65 to receive the COLA. No other plan required that. Since Plan 1 members could retiree after 30 years of service, those who retired in 1998 at age 52 weren’t eligible for a COLA until 2011. To balance the budget that year the Legislature killed it and cut medical benefits $33 per month.
In response lawmakers introduced three bills in this year’s Legislature: (House Bill 2323/Senate Bill 6290, HB 2452/SB 6305 and HB 2511/SB 6340). Each offers Plan 1 retirees a modest one-time 3 percent bump. Two of them limit that increase to the first $25,000 of pay, capping it at $62.50 per month.
Tuesday, Feb. 6, marks the last day to pass bills out of fiscal committees onto the House or Senate floor. After that, they “die” in committee. The COLA bills languish in the House or Senate Committees to which they were first referred, held there by powerful committee chairs. When will retirees who devoted their careers to the children of this state become a priority?