The Norman Transcript

State/Region

October 6, 2013

Okla. GOP leaders look to make state pension changes

OKLAHOMA CITY — Republican leaders in Oklahoma who have made major changes in recent years to the state’s pension systems say they aren’t finished with their work and plan to push next year to put an end to the traditional pension for new state workers.

Switching to a 401k-style retirement account for newly hired state employees, long a top goal of many fiscal conservatives, has been endorsed by the governor and legislative leaders in the House and Senate, although a battle undoubtedly will ensue with resistance from rank-and-file state workers.

Gov. Mary Fallin has endorsed a switch for state workers out of a traditional pension system, but isn’t yet married to any single proposal and wants to make sure any change keeps the state’s financial obligation to current pensioners, said her spokesman, Alex Weintz.

“I think there are multiple routes to meaningful pension reform,” Weintz said. “We want to pick one that will be successful.”

The head of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, Sterling Zearley, said he’s not opposed to discussing the idea of a pension change, but not without a commitment from the Legislature to increase pay for state workers.

“Until we address state employee pay, it doesn’t matter what retirement system we’re in,” Zearley said. “Salaries are low, and it doesn’t matter what kind of pension you have if your salaries are so low, because that affects how much goes into their retirement.”

Zearley said he was eager to see the results of a market-based pay study commissioned by Fallin, who said she wouldn’t endorse state worker pay hikes until it was completed. But he said he was open to changes from a traditional pension system, as long as current retirees are protected.

“I’m not opposed to looking at the concept, but I’d have to see how it would be structured,” Zearley said.

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