Senate pension bill passes 24-10

A Senate pension bill designed to save the state $5 billion over 30 years by reducing benefits for future employees passed September 15 by a vote of 24-10. The final bill included several amendments supported by the MTA, but the financial impact of those changes on future employees still needs to be analyzed.

“We are disappointed that the bill passed because we truly believe that educators already pay enough for their own pension benefits,” said MTA President Paul Toner. “We greatly appreciate the support that public education received from the 10 senators who voted with us in the end. Now we will take our case to the House.”

The 10 senators who voted against the bill were Sal DiDomenico, Ken Donnelly, Jamie Eldridge, Susan Fargo, Pat Jehlen, John Keenan, Tom McGee, James Timilty, Steve Tolman and Dan Wolf. Senator Marc Pacheco, who was not present, supported the MTA position by “pairing” his vote with that of an absent senator who favored the measure.

Toner noted that MTA members sent 7,125 e-mails to their senators in less than a week, as well as contacting them via postcards, phone calls and in personal meetings in their districts set up by MTA’s new Legislative and Political Action Teams and in the State House.

“Our contact clearly had an impact on the debate,” said Toner. “Even senators who voted against us acknowledged that public employees didn’t create the unfunded liability and admitted it was a tough call to cut benefits for future employees to address that problem.”

The main argument made for the bill was that the $20 billion in unfunded pension liability, which was created decades ago when the state and municipalities failed to set aside adequate funds for future pension obligations, is so large it threatens the state’s bond rating.

The bill would require future employees to work longer for a smaller pension benefit through a variety of changes, including changing the salary average used to determine pension benefits from three to five years and prohibiting future MTA members from collecting pension benefits before age 60.

One amendment sought by the MTA that passed permits higher education faculty and certain administrators enrolled in the Optional Retirement Program to transfer into the state retirement system by buying back creditable service for the years they were in the ORP.

The MTA will provide more details about the amendments in the next few days as the numbers are analyzed.