Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Massachusetts Governor Vetoes State Retiree COLA

Governor Deval Patrick vetoed a pension increase for retired teachers and state workers that would have boosted benefits by $120 per year, a major stand for a governor to take against unions that helped elect him.

Fiscal watchdogs had warned that the benefit could cost the state more than $3 billion over the next 20 years, but retirees argued that they desperately need a cost-of-living increase as costs for everything from groceries to gas are on the rise.

The governor had been largely supportive of the pension boosts - and was expected to sign the legislation - but requested that the cost-of-living increases be restricted to workers with pensions less than $40,000. He argued that would make the plan more affordable for the state, while providing pension boosts for those who need it most.

"He was trying to strike a balance between helping the retirees on the truly fixed incomes while also helping the affordability of the Commonwealth," said Leslie Kirwan, secretary of administration and finance.

But supporters of the legislation, who had unanimous, backing from the House and Senate, decided not to go along with the governor's plan and gambled that he would not use his veto.

"We rolled the dice and came up empty," said Ralph White, president of the Retired State, County and Municipal Employees Association of Massachusetts. "We were taking a certain amount of risk. Hindsight being 20-20, we underestimated the priority the governor placed on his amendment."

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