In spite of recent reforms, Oklahoma's state pensions still have $11.5 billion in unfunded liabilities. Citizens may wonder how lawmakers allowed this to happen. Opposition to a proposed consolidation of pension boards suggests the blame goes to a lack of seriousness.
Gov. Mary Fallin and state Treasurer Ken Miller have suggested the boards overseeing Oklahoma's pension systems be combined to reduce overhead. Oklahoma has seven pension plans, six with independent boards, staff, offices, consultants and investment managers.
No consolidation legislation has been put forth yet, but critics are denouncing the idea anyway. Roughly 400 firefighters recently urged opposition at a Capitol rally. House Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Del City went further, claiming the “ultimate goal” of the proposal is to remove “folks who have true knowledge of the systems” and replace them with people who can “be persuaded to roll back benefits for firefighters, roll back benefits for teachers, roll back benefits for public employees.”
But no one is talking about benefit cuts. Fallin says the state spends $80 million to $100 million annually to administer pensions and predicts 15 percent in savings could be achieved through administrative consolidation. This estimate may be high, but any savings would improve pension solvency and benefit current and future retirees.
Moreover, as Miller has noted, the firefighter's pension plan is the second-worst-funded in Oklahoma government despite getting the highest percentage of dedicated state funding. Given that reality, it's not enough for opponents to criticize reform proposals. They need to offer alternatives. To their credit, firefighters are supporting other reforms.
Sadly, legislative critics such as Inman remain vocal in denouncing reform but silent in developing counterproposals that improve the stability of state pension funds.