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November 16, 2013

Stand up for educators

NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:

A wise person once told me that if you really want to understand why a decision is being made, “follow the money.”

Recently, State Treasurer Ken Miller has been touting the need to reform Oklahoma’s public employee retirement plans. There are several proposals, from consolidating our five individual retirement system boards into one politically appointed mega-board to completely changing the methods by which employees contribute to the system. When an elected leader is giving the rationale for these changes, it can sound pretty convincing, but let’s take a look at why anyone would want to do this.

Some say the state needs to increase its bond rating and the only way to do this is to decrease our pension debt. But WHY would we need to increase our bond rating when our current leaders refuse to issue bonds? Furthermore, with an AA+ bond rating, Oklahoma’s is one of the highest in the nation, so is that really the motivation for these changes?

Some say we need these changes because our unfunded pension debt puts our state at risk of bankruptcy. While I agree that it is important to be concerned about debt, let’s consider what we’ve already done to address this issue. In 2011, several changes were made to improve our pension systems, including not allowing cost of living increases for retirees unless they are funded up-front. Consequently, our Teacher Retirement System will be 100 percent funded in 22 years- a reasonable amount of time in terms of pension systems- if we simply leave well enough alone.

And what if we make these proposed changes? Current employees’ pensions will be put at risk and future employees’ pensions will be significantly less, making them much more likely to retire in poverty after a lifetime of work.

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