Editor's note: To see the complete column, including upcoming bills, visit www.goteamgene.com.
There were no big battles on the House side last week, but the Senate did debate the core of the retirement plans, which went through an unbelievable metamorphosis between the committee and the Senate floor.
Retirement Bills – ONGOING DISCUSSION
My position: AGAINST (as currently drafted)
The primary points of the proposed retirement plan as it stands now, following changes by the Senate, are as follows:
- Raising retirement age to 67
- Increase the employee contribution by 3 percent
- Raise the retirement calculation from three to fiveyears
- Move to a type of cash-balance/defined contribution plan for new hires
- Merge administration (which would eliminate about 30 employees) but not assets of Louisiana State Employee Retirement System (LASERS) into the Teachers' Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL).
As I mentioned before, if the retirement structure is changed to that of a 401K investment program with a non-negative clause guaranteeing the employee no loss on their investments, it by itself is not necessarily a bad thing for employees. It could actually be an advantage to the employee, and save the state money over a longer period of time.
It's not a "quick-fix" for the State's budget--but it could better secure both the future of the State, and employee, simultaneously. However, following changes, this plan may now affect the current retirement benefits of existing or retired employees. As it now stands, I have more questions to ask.
The questions and suggested problems with the above points are:
- Are they constitutional? Most opinions from attorneys suggest that they are not, for current employees, as they were hired and have invested many years under a defined benefit retirement plan – a "contract", per se.
- Will these changes make the budget issue even worse? Many analysts project that such massive changes would cause a mass exodus of affected employees, causing shortages for important jobs and even less money to support the retirement plans of LASERS and TRSL.
- How will this balance the State's budget now and in the future? Next year's annual budget is already based on these cuts as well as additional RIF (reduction in force) measures to be proposed. It is still very unclear how such changes will affect the bottom line of our state's overhead – especially given the new and hefty expenses we will have to take on to implement the new education reform policies.
I support a plan that makes sensible changes with new hires, and promotes constitutional changes with current employees that involve their input for the future of their retirement.
The bottom line? Our state should have begun "budget reform" several years back. There is no way to successfully implement expensive new practices and whack away at the retirements of life-long state employees all in one year and expect citizens to be willing, understanding and supportive of such measures. It is irresponsible to toy with the futures of our own citizens so that our state could have the financial luxury of launching a full-blown educational reform all in one swoop. In the end, the final product will be very different from what it is now, as the Senate and then the House will likely mull over every detail ... so stay tuned.
Scrap Metal Bills - PASSED, House - Pending Senate Vote
My Position: FOR
This bill addresses scrap metal dealers, and is designed to help mitigate scrap metal theft and the impact of such thefts on dealers.
Avoyelles Prison Sale - VOLUNTARILY WITHDRAWN BY AUTHOR
This bill was voluntarily removed from the calendar after committee amendments cancelled the sale of the prison and only left possible privatization of operation in the bill. It may come up again, and it is likely that the vote will be close.
Bullying Bill - VOLUNTARILY WITHDRAWN BY AUTHOR
This bill was withdrawn from committee after a major battle developed over the details of the bill. The author wanted to name specific groups to be included for protection under this bill.
Others wanted blanket coverage to deter bullying for any reason. After heated discussion and growing public attention, the author withdrew the bill and a formal proposal never reached the House floor for review and vote.
969 STO Bill Spending Cap Amendment
My Position: FOR This highly sensitive bill which passed in the House a few weeks ago has come back to the House after the Senate proposed several amendments to include one that would implement an annual spending cap of $300 million in an effort to ease concerns that an unlimited expense could thrust the state even further into debt.
This particular amendment was rejected by the author, and the objection was ultimately approved by the House so the bill will now go to a concurrence committee before final consideration in the House and Senate.