Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Gov. Bobby Jindal challenged on retiree cost-of-living increase

Marsha Shuler
The Advocate

Louisiana Rep. Sam Jones called on Gov. Bobby Jindal Tuesday to reconsider his threat to veto a cost-of-living raise this year for 130,000 retired state employees and teachers.

Jones said it is particularly important for retirees to get a 1.5 percent bump in their pension checks now because it could be the last chance for a while.

“If we don’t give one this year almost certainly we will not give one next year,” Jones said. “We are looking at the possibility of maybe three years.”

The money to provide the average $30 monthly increase is in special accounts set up for the cost-of-living-adjustments, or COLAs, at the four statewide retirement systems: State Employee, Teachers, School Employees and State Police. But a consumer price index benchmark must be met too, Jones said.

“We will meet it this year and probably not next year. Do we likely skip three years or try to do something more immediate to address the problems of 130,000 retirees?” Jones asked.

The Franklin Democrat told his House colleagues he wanted to talk to Jindal about the situation.

Earlier in the session, the Louisiana House approved 80-20 Jones’ House Bill 42 ,which would grant the COLA effective July 1. The House forced its Retirement Committee to release the bill for action.

Jones said retirees are facing escalating state health insurance costs and have had one 1.5 percent COLA in the last eight years.

The measure ran into problems in the Senate where its Finance Committee moved the COLA date to July 1, 2016. Absent the change, administration officials said the governor would veto the measure.

Jones postponed until Wednesday a House vote on whether to send the Senate version to a conference committee to try to restore the COLA this year.

Jones told the House the administration worried that granting the COLA now would hurt Louisiana’s bond rating as it broke faith with a law designed to improve pension system finances.

“I don’t necessarily agree with that,” Jones said.

The retirees got a COLA last year and were not supposed to receive one this year under a new law.

Under the 2014 law, more of the retirement systems’ excess investment earnings will go toward reduction of long-term debts before dollars are put into the special COLA accounts.

The changes limited both the frequency and amount of future retiree benefit hikes until systems hit certain unfunded accrued liability levels.

“I think it’s a shame we are taking that kind of position with our retirees,” said state Rep. Ed Price, D-Gonzales.

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