Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Pension hike for state employees, teachers, school workers, State Police get Louisiana House endorsement; measure now moves on to Senate for debate

Marsha Shuler

The Louisiana House on Tuesday endorsed a cost-of-living increase in the pension checks of about 100,000 retired state employees, teachers, school workers and State Police troopers.

The House voted 80-20 for the measure, which now heads to the Senate for debate.

The bill would grant a 1.5 percent permanent benefit adjustment to retirees of the state’s four pension systems. The average increase would be under $30 a month.

Rep. Sam Jones said the pension plans have the money in special accounts set up for retiree cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs. “It has a zero impact on the state general fund,” he said.

Jones said retirees are suffering now because of increased state health insurance program costs, with some premiums going up $58 a month and copays added. Retirees need the help now, instead of next year when they are scheduled to receive one.

“Reach way down and think about that 91-year-old retired teacher who doesn’t have $2,500 to contribute, no lobbyist, no association,” Jones said. “You and me are her lobbyist.”

Opposition came from House Retirement Committee chairman Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, who said granting the COLA now would increase the state retirement systems long-term debt and lead to increased contributions from the state and local school districts toward pension costs.

“The systems are only about 60 percent funded. We have taken steps to get that on the right trajectory. House Bill 42 will undo that,” Pearson said.

Pearson said the COLA would alter the debt reduction plan approved last year and would send a bad signal to bond rating agencies. The law was aimed at strengthening the finances of the retirement plans.

Under that law, more of the retirement systems’ excess investment earnings will go toward reduction of long-term debts before dollars are put into the special accounts from which COLAs are granted. The changes limited both the frequency and amount of future retiree benefit hikes until systems hit certain unfunded accrued liability levels. Retired state employees, teachers, school employees and State Police got a cost-of-living increase last year, but under the new law were not to get one in the coming year.

The COLA accounts of the pension systems have the $350 million in them necessary to cover the pension check raise. The money would have to be replenished before another COLA could be granted.

“We’re only talking about $30 more a month. $30 is not a lot of money,” said Rep. James Armes, D-Leesville. He warned his House colleagues that the funds could be robbed if left sitting — like others have been as the state struggles with budget problems.

“These people need a break today,” said Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Mansfield.

But Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, said the state pension system’s unfunded liabilities keep rising because “we don’t stick to a plan for improvement.”

“We are never going to get anywhere,” Ivey said. “We are headed in the wrong direction.”

Friday, May 15, 2015

LASERS Launches New Initiative for Millennials

The month of May marks the launch of LASERS new initiative, Millennials Investing Now for Tomorrow or MINT, targeted to state employees in the early stages of their careers. MINT is designed to educate early-career LASERS members on the basics of the System and guide them in the direction of securing their financial future.

If you are a LASERS member between the ages of 20-35, the two-part question you should ask yourself is, “Do I understand my retirement system and am I saving enough for my retirement now?”

LASERS is a defined benefit plan, which means that your contributions to LASERS (automatically deducted from each paycheck) help to fund a benefit that is guaranteed to you monthly for life once you retire. Although the LASERS defined benefit plan offers a guaranteed retirement benefit, the average rank-and-file retiree’s benefits is modest at $24,204 annually. LASERS encourages you to be aware of ways you can supplement your LASERS retirement benefit and understand what options are available for you to take advantage of now, so you can reap the benefits at retirement age.

Do you know which LASERS retirement plan you are in? Do you know how a LASERS benefit is calculated? Do you contribute to the Deferred Compensation Plan? Do you know the benefits of preserving your annual and sick leave balances? Do you know the benefits of purchasing or transferring service credit early in your career? These are all questions that MINT is designed to answer, along with many more topics.

The MINT campaign will be a series of infographics based on specific topics that are beneficial to our MINT audience. Each infographic will be released via the LASERS Member Connection email service, the LASERS website, and our social media accounts. To keep up with the topics, check out the MINT web page on the LASERS website, subscribe to the email list, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  

If you have specific questions about MINT or would like to share your ideas for topics, please email us at

State employee, teacher retirees COLA heading to House vote

Marsha Shuler
The Advocate

The fate of a cost-of-living increase in some 100,000 retired state employees and teachers pension checks is now in the hands of the Louisiana House.

The House Retirement Committee on Thursday complied with a directive to release legislation it had bottled up on a 6-6 tie vote.

The full House voted 64-25 last week to order the committee to advance the bill which would grant a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, to retirees in the four statewide pension systems: state employees, teachers, school employees and State Police. The average increase would be under $30 a month. Funds would come from special accounts set up in each system for the purpose of COLA granting.

The committee sent House Bill 42 sponsored by state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, to the House floor with an unfavorable report.

The parliamentary maneuver means that Jones will have to seek House approval to keep it alive and move it on to the agenda for later debate.

Jones has 73 House cosponsors of the COLA bill.