House Democrats are joining Oklahoma firefighters in opposing efforts by Republican leaders to consolidate the staff, boards and offices of several pension plans into one.
No legislation has been filed, but the concept is backed by Gov. Mary Fallin and state Treasurer Ken Miller. Language to consolidate the pension commissions still could be placed this year in two empty, or shell, bills.
“We've got real concerns with the way they've gone after the pension systems,” House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said Thursday. “What we think that the ultimate goal there is to take folks who have true knowledge of the systems, who understand the systems and who are there to protect the systems and basically do away with those folks, and consolidate it under a small handful of folks who can then be persuaded to roll back benefits for firefighters, roll back benefits for teachers, roll back benefits for public employees.”
Oklahoma has seven pension plans, six of which have independent boards, staff, offices, consultants and investment managers.
About 220,000 employees and retirees are part of the state's pension system. Those covered include teachers, agency workers, police, troopers, firefighters and judges.
About 400 firefighters from across the state opposed the plan during a rally earlier this week outside the state Capitol.
Fallin has said the state spends $80 million to $100 million each year to administer the pensions and the state could realize at least 15 percent in savings by consolidating the pension plans.
Miller, who also serves as chairman of the Oklahoma State Pension Commission, said the proposal would not change any benefits promised or currently being received, but is intended to reduce administrative expenses.
“We value our firefighters, police, teachers and all public servants, and want to honor their service by providing them a secure and solvent pension fund,” he said. “The firefighter's pension plan is the second-worst-funded of the state's seven pension plans despite receiving the highest percentage of dedicated state funding, has the lowest five-year investment returns, and pays the second-highest investment fees for those returns. Clearly, the plan can do better and we are working hard to improve it.”