Pension contributions will go up, Casper Crowd Told

Casper College town hall on pension system draws more than 100

By Dan Neal - Equality State Policy Center

A November prediction from the chairman of the Wyoming Retirement System may be fulfilled sooner rather than later.

Steve Sommers, chair of the Wyoming Retirement System (WRS) board of directors, spoke at a question-and-answer session at the last of a series of town hall meetings on Wyoming’s public pension system on Nov. 28. Read more here sciatica treatment. He forecast then that public employees in Wyoming will be asked to contribute more of their pay to ensure that the state public pension system will meet its obligations over the long term.

 On Thursday, Dec. 13, the Joint Appropriations Committee directed its staff to prepare legislation for the coming session that would do just that.

The Casper town hall meeting last month attracted more than 100 people anxious to know more about the system and its health. Several expressed concerns about a weekly Casper newspaper’s report on the value of teacher pensions on public perception of the system. Several said that they considered the story misleading because its estimates of the value of an “average” pension rested on assumptions they believed overvalued the benefit by assuming a very long life for a retiree.

The report also focused narrowly on estimating value and did not point out the value of pension payments to community economies across the state.

 Natrona County High School art teacher Sheila McHattie told the more than 100 teachers, fire fighters, college instructors and other staffers in attendance that Wyoming’s defined benefit pension system helps retain teachers in her district, especially young math and science teachers who could find work elsewhere relatively easily.

The Wyoming system remains healthy but must be managed carefully, Wyoming Retirement System Director Thom Williams asserted again, just as he has done at three previous town hall meetings staged by the WEA and its allies in the Coalition for a Healthy Retirement System.

Williams explained the system and the changes made by the Legislature during the 2012 session. He noted that increasing employee contributions is one of several levers system managers can use to assure the system’s ability to meet its benefit obligations over time. Board Chair Sommers joined Williams to answer questions. Other members of the state retirement board also attended the town hall meeting in the Nichols Auditorium at Casper College.

The event provided another opportunity to note that teachers, fire fighters, nurses and other public servants rely on the state system to provide a stable income around which they can build their retirement income plans. The system, meanwhile, pays the bulk of all benefits with earnings on investments of funds contributed by state and local employees and their employers, whether the state, county, city, town or local governments. Even special districts and joint powers boards around Wyoming participate in the system.

The system has been attacked by some state policymakers who say the defined benefit system should be closed in order to reduce future obligations. But Williams noted a planned WRS report to the Joint Appropriations Committee in December would show that closing the defined benefit system would do nothing to reduce existing liabilities and would be prohibitively expensive because the funding of obligations to people now in the system would be accelerated. Williams characterized the current system as healthy and providing the lifelong benefits people need. Wyoming and its public employees would lose the advantages of pooling funds for investment by professional managers. Instead, they would be left with individually-managed retirement accounts that studies have shown provide far less in terms of stability and sheer cash value.

Williams repeated his assessment that Wyoming’s system is healthy, especially in comparison to public systems in other states that have been underfunded or where funds were borrowed to support other programs.

Other legislation did bring changes to the system. The Legislature imposed very conservative management standards that, for the foreseeable future, mean retirees will not see any cost of living adjustments to their monthly benefits.

The Coalition for a Healthy Retirement System conducted its series of town hall meetings to educate the public and public employees about the system and to explain why it is crucial to both better government and the state’s economy. More than 250 people attended the meetings.

The Coalition for a Healthy Retirement System includes the Wyoming Education Association, the Wyoming Retired Education Personnel Association, the Wyoming Public Employees Association, the Federated Fire Fighters of Wyoming, AARP Wyoming, the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, the Wyoming Highway Patrol Association, the Wyoming State AFL-CIO, and the Equality State Policy Center.

Casper Town Hall meeting focuses on Wyoming Retirement System

The Casper meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Nichols Auditorium inside the McMurry Career Studies Building at the south end of the campus. The meeting will conclude about 8:30 p.m.

Wyoming’s teachers, fire fighters, nurses, snow plow drivers and other public servants work hard and depend on the state retirement system to budget for their life after they leave state service.

The Equality State Policy Center and the Coalition for a Healthy Retirement System will host a town hall meeting in Casper Wednesday, November 28, to discuss the importance of the retirement system to the state and its communities. The Casper meeting is the fourth forum the coaltion has staged this year to explain how the system works and the potential effects of policy changes that could be proposed to the Legislature.

The system is the focus of interim work by the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee, which was directed to analyze the budget implications of retirement system issues and conduct preliminary discussions about Cost of Living Adjustments in benefits paid to retirees.

The Casper town hall meeting will feature teachers, fire fighters and others speaking about the importance of the system. Thom Williams, director of the state retirement system, will discuss why the WRS board of directors endorsed the defined benefit pension system, and will explain the current status of the system. Stephen Sommers, chairman of the WRS board, will join Williams to answer questions from those in attendance.

“The Wyoming system is healthy,” said Dan Neal, executive director of the ESPC. “It provides a stable source of income that helps the Wyoming public employees who educate our kids and protect our lives and safety plan for retirement. These families want to keep the system healthy. They know that a reliable pension keeps retirees functioning and means they do not have to turn to the state for food stamps or other help.” 

The Equality State Policy Center, a broad-based coalition of Wyoming interests, works through research, public education and advocacy to hold Wyoming state and local governments accountable to the people they represent, and to encourage and assist state residents to participate effectively in public policy decision-making.

WEA and others sponsor town halls regarding Wyoming Retirement System

The Wyoming Education Association, as a part of the Coalition for a Healthy Retirement, is co-sponsoring THREE town hall meetings about the retirement issues that could have an impact on Wyoming’s educators, fire fighters, and other public employees.

These informational town hall meetings about the proposed and possible changes to the Wyoming Retirement System will provide explanation of what YOU can do as a citizen and voter. Featured will be Thom Williams, Executive Director of the WRS, who will give an overview of the retirement system and explain why the WRS supports the defined benefit plan. to hear what teachers and firefighters say about the system.

Watch this video to hear what teachers and fire fighters say about the system

Mark your calendars for these VERY important town hall meetings:

Oct 18th

VIRTUAL TOWN HALL: Retirement Issues - 7-9 pm at various location

Try this website

College

Building/ rm #

Capacity

Directions

Parking

LCCC/ Cheyenne Education and Enrichment Center (EEC) rm 132

30

College Drive on N side of highway, turn right by dorms (new grey building). Building is in NE corner of large parking lot NE corner of parking lot
Casper College Goodstein Libraryrm. 102

10 to 12

Faces out of Campus on College Drive Best parking will be on street with ongoing construction
UW Laramie College of Educationrm. 2

16 to 18

Take Ivinson to 15th, turn left to Lewis. Parking on corner of Lewis and 15th
NWC/ Powell Moyer buildingrm. 108

24 to 30

Between the Administration building and fitness center Parking is right by building
CWC/ Riverton Intertribal buildingrm. 125

60

Next to Art Center West Parking lot next to building
WWCC/ Rock Springs Annexrm. A102

20

Long sidewalk NE of swimming pool, goes right to building NE parking lot by swimming pool
EWC/ Torrington Tebbet buildingrm. 270

12

3200 W. C street, room is just around the corner from information centerParking by building

Nov 8th

TOWN HALL: Retirement Issues – Cheyenne – 7:00 p.m.

Nov 28th        
TOWN HALL: Retirement Issues – Casper – 7:00 p.m.

These town hall meetings have been scheduled in conjunction with meetings held by the Wyoming Retirement System or the Joint Appropriations Committee. We encourage you to learn about these issues at the town hall meeting and to then attend these other meetings to let your voice be heard. Find more information about these meetings and other important dates that could feature these retirement issues.

SF-59 Explained

SF-59 becomes Senate Enrolled Act 66

After a Joint Conference Committee on Thursday morning, Senate File 59, Public employee retirement plans benefit increases, passed concurrence in both houses and is now Senate Enrolled Act 66. 

While the passage of this bill is disappointing, there are many positives to come from the  and the lobbying efforts of WEA and many others. First, an amendment was added that allows the Wyoming Retirement System board, under certain conditions, to recommend a COLA for the approval of the governor and legislature. Originally, SF-59 took the expertise of the WRS board and staff out of the equation, which WEA opposed. Second, the funding obligation had been significantly lowered from a required 120% down to 105% through an amendment in the House Appropriations Committee, which cut nearly in half the estimated amount of time that would be required to get the plan funded to a level sufficient to offer COLAs. This proportion was further lowered to 100% by the Joint Conference Committee.

Other important points called for by SEA-66: 

  • COLAs and changes to benefit multipliers may only be considered once the affected plan maintains a funded ratio of 100% plus the percentage deemed necessary by the board to account for market fluctuation. 
  • When a benefit change is proposed, it must include a decision matrix that considers a number of values, assumptions, and anticipated ratios as a result of the change so as to ensure all funding ratios will continue to stay fully funded in the long-term. 
  • A study will be done by the Joint Appropriations Interim Committee to determine the cost efficiencies of the following:

    • Providing an annual COLA by increasing the rate of employer and employee contribution rates in the current defined benefit plan;
    • Implementing a supplemental defined contribution plan with employee and matching employer contributions to address COLA increases;
    • Other types of pension plans. The committee may develop legislation for introduction in the 2013 session.

SEA-66 will now move to Governor Mead for his consideration. If it is signed, conversation regarding this matter will continue, due to the Joint Appropriations Interim Committee study. WEA encourages all members to consider involvement in this process. Interim committee meetings can be followed on the  website under the . No meetings have yet been set, but the Legislative Service Office updates the calendar regularly.

The  worked with a number of organizations as a coalition against SF-59 and other proposals aimed at changing the retirement system. WEA would like to thank the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, the Wyoming Public Employees Association, the Wyoming Retired Education Personnel, AARP Wyoming, and the Federated Firefighters of Wyoming for being active partners in the fight against harmful changes to the Wyoming Retirement System.

Additional information
For detailed information on other WEA-monitored legislation, please refer to this .

For further updates throughout the year regarding public education policy in Wyoming, including , please visit .

WEA Legislative Update – March 8, 2012

SF-59 passes conference committee, both houses, and moves on to governor

The Joint Conference Committee met this morning to discuss , Public employee retirement plans benefit increases. Agreement was made and was accepted by both houses this afternoon.

While the committee did come to an agreement, the final bill is very complex. The WEA Legislative Action Team and a coalition of others will provide an in-depth summary tomorrow once they have had time to take a thorough look at all the details of the bill. WEA believes it will be important to keep members as informed and educated as possible on this issue and the changes that will arise as a result. We appreciate your patience and understanding until that information can be fully provided tomorrow.

Education Accountability becomes enrolled act

The Joint Conference Committee met yesterday to discuss , Education accountability, and was unable to finish its work. The committee met again this morning and came to an agreement. The JCC agreement was presented to both bodies this afternoon and passed.

Changes to come out of the conference committee include the following:

  • K-2 testing: It was agreed that 1st graders will be required to take the MAP test at least once. No accountability testing will be required in kindergarten. The MAP test will be required at least twice per year for grades 2-8.
  • 12th grade testing: All 12th graders will be required to take the ACT COMPASS exam during their spring semester.
  • Student to teacher ratio waiver: Language had been added in a floor amendment that would have allowed schools that exceed or meet expectations under the accountability sysem to apply for a waiver of the 16:1 student to teacher ratio. The JCC agreed to change the language to read that only schools exceeding expectations may apply for the waiver and will be required to report back to the Wyoming Department of Education.
  • 9th grade credit accumulation: As an additional measure of readiness, by assessing at the end of 9th grade if students are on track to graduate.

How did WEA-monitored legislation fare?

Of the 33 pieces of introduced legislation that WEA was monitoring this session, 21 died at some point throughout the process. Several notable victories in opposed legislation included the failure on introduction of HB-58, Public sector bargaining, failure on introduction of HB-91, Wyoming Retirement Act, and the failure on introduction of HJ-5, Education funding amendments.

Twelve WEA-monitored bills moved on to become enrolled acts.
indicates bills signed by Governor Mead.

WEA-supported bills:
: Formerly HB-77, Charter schools-average daily membership
: Formerly SF-35, Higher education reserve accounts *
: Formerly SF-52, Dyslexia screening and response

WEA-opposed bill:
: Formerly SF-59, Public employee retirement plans benefit increases 

WEA monitored bills:
: Formerly HB-72, Juvenile detention facility placements
: Formerly HB-108, PTSB-teacher certification
: Formerly SF-55, Purchase of federal lands
: Formerly SF-57, Education accountability
: Formerly SF-78, Interstate compact on students of military families
: Formerly SF-90, School finance amendments
: Formerly SF-97, Wyoming Retirement Act
: Formerly SF-105, School capital construction *

Additional information

Due to the complexity of SF-59, please watch for a full report tomorrow.

For detailed information on WEA-monitored legislation, please refer to this .

Check back here for updates throughout the year regarding public education policy in Wyoming, including .