Governor Fallin calls for major overhaul of Oklahoma's pension system

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin says she supports consolidating the staff, boards and offices of several pension plans into one and having a defined contribution plan for new state workers.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: March 2, 2013
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Gov. Mary Fallin is calling for a major overhaul of Oklahoma's pension system, wanting to consolidate the staff, boards and offices of several pension plans into one and change to a defined contribution instead of the traditional plan for new state employees.

“While our state tax-supported bond debt is low, our $11 billion unfunded pension liability represents 7 percent of our gross state product,” Fallin wrote in state Treasurer Ken Miller's Oklahoma Economic Report that was distributed Friday on the Internet. “That means every Oklahoman is on the hook for $2,900 in pension debt.”

Fallin said 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.

The state spends $80 million to $100 million each year just to administer the pensions, she said. She estimated the state could realize at least 15 percent in savings by consolidating the pension plans.

“Over a 10-year period, this change alone could provide an additional $120 million to $150 million that could instead be used toward paying retirement benefits,” Fallin said. “But more importantly, it would direct the focus on the financial health of the state and the pension systems as a whole rather than on individual member benefits. A centralized board would not mean that the seven plans' funds would be combined, only the funds' administration, investment and financial oversight.”

Fallin, who has led efforts since taking office two years ago to streamline and consolidate the state's information technology, said the state's pension rate remains the biggest obstacle to Oklahoma obtaining a top AAA credit rating. Oklahoma has an AA2 rating.

“As with past efforts to right-size government, there will be those who fight to maintain the status quo,” she said. “But now is the time to address our unfunded pension debt and right-size Oklahoma's pensions by eliminating duplication and inefficiencies in our current system and developing a fiscally responsible benefit structure for the future.”

Miller said Friday he will work with the governor to get the Republican-controlled Legislature to support the proposed changes.

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