The Norman Transcript

Opinion

October 23, 2013

State can shore up worker pension plans

NORMAN — State Treasurer Ken Miller believes that with adequate pensions reforms, Oklahoma government could live within its means without balancing its books on the backs of future generations.

That was the message delivered to the Oklahoma State Pension Committee earlier this month. Dr. Miller, an economist by training, thinks a switch to a defined contribution program rather than a defined pension program would help save the systems.

The state’s seven public pension programs — which includes teachers, firefighters, judges and police officers — are 65 percent funded. Some changes have been made legislatively, but the unfunded liability still totals $11 billion. An 80 percent funding threshold is an accepted minimum.

Mr. Miller, in his testimony Oct. 16, said the deficit exists because lawmakers granted cost of living raises without identifying funds to pay for them and a failure to make enough of an annual contribution to ammortize the debt.

He also points out the cost of administering the state’s seven pension plans, with six of them administered by separate boards, offices, staffs, consultants and pension managers. That costs plan members $80 million to $100 million just to administer.

Any changes made will impact future public employees, not those currently working or those who have already retired from the systems. Oklahoma could be a national leader in shoring up its pension debt with some long-term changes.

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