Public pension reform can't be ignored forever in Oklahoma

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: May 1, 2013
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With one month left in the legislative session, groups opposed to making changes in state pension fund systems are ramping up efforts to see that they succeed.

The Oklahoma Education Association is among those urging members to tell lawmakers to leave pension plans alone. State Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, for one, has bought in. Brown says he's gotten several emails from teachers “terrified they are going to lose their retirement.” In a news release, he acknowledged that Oklahoma's unfunded pension liability merits attention, but “jeopardizing the retirement of our teachers and public employees is not the answer.”

Of course it's not. Most of the groups covered by state pensions oppose the idea of making any changes to their current plans, which provide a defined benefit. Gov. Mary Fallin and state Treasurer Ken Miller are exploring a switch away from defined benefit plans, as about half the states have done.

Why? Because Oklahoma's pension plans are unfunded by about $11 billion. That amount was greater a few years ago, before lawmakers changed the way cost-of-living adjustments are funded. Further pension reform is needed. It's unlikely to happen this session, due to the scope of the issue and the accompanying contention, but it can't be put off forever.

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