Commission urges Oklahoma governor and lawmakers to improve pension funding

Members of the Oklahoma State Pension Commission were united on some fronts but divided on others Wednesday as they discussed how to resolve complex problems plaguing Oklahoma's financially troubled pension systems.
by Randy Ellis Modified: November 14, 2013 at 6:00 pm •  Published: November 13, 2013
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Members of the Oklahoma State Pension Commission were united on some issues but divided on others Wednesday as they discussed how to resolve complex problems plaguing Oklahoma's financially troubled pension systems.

Commissioners voted unanimously to send letters to the governor and state lawmakers urging them to pass a law or amend the state constitution to require the Legislature to annually make “actuarially required contributions” to each of the state's seven public pension plans.

Actuarially required contributions are state appropriations in amounts sufficient to make sure accrued benefits for the current year are paid and that each pension plan's accrued unfunded pension liabilities are gradually paid off over time.

Oklahoma's Legislature chose not to appropriate money to fund the actuarially required contributions of the state's pension funds for several years, contributing to the state's current problem of having about $11.4 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

How to eliminate the accumulated pension debt continues to be a hot topic.

State Auditor Gary Jones, who serves on the commission, urged careful study before doing anything to keep from making matters worse.

State Treasurer Ken Miller had a different view.

“I'm ready for action, personally,” Miller said. “I think we can study things to death.”

Miller and Gov. Mary Fallin have been pushing for drastic changes that include consolidating administration of the state's seven pension systems under one board and requiring future state employees, with the exception of hazardous-duty workers like police officers and firefighters, to participate in a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan, rather than the current defined benefit plan. Miller and Fallin's plan would allow all current state workers to continue under the defined benefit plan.

Jones said switching to a 401(k)-style plan would do nothing to fix unfunded pension liabilities.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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