Wednesday, December 14

Thoughts on state retirement changes

State employees are in an uproar.  A South Carolina House Sub Committee approved changes to the South Carolina State Retirement System.  There a reason that such was addressed.  The long running South Carolina State Retirement System, which has been benefits based instead of contributions based, is in long term financial trouble.  Thus, lawmakers are looking at how to save it.  

Those lawmakers are hampered by legal decisions involving state retirement.  When TERRI, a retired teachers incentive program meant to keep teachers who retire on the job, was implemented, the South Carolina Courts ruled it had to apply to all employees in the South Carolina State Retirement System.  Now, on the flip side of that, physically demanding jobs such as firefighters and police are lumped in with all other jobs in the South Carolina State Retirement System when elected officials consider ways to save the system.  

On a common sense level that makes little sense.  Other states and municipalities recognize that physically demanding and dangerous jobs such as firefighting and policing are separate from being a government clerk or dare we at VUI say, teaching school or the like.  Those in such demanding and dangerous jobs are justly rewarded in those other venues for their service with relatively earlier retirement plans.  

But, in South Carolina, we lump everyone together.  Thus, the changes proposed effect all members in the SC State Retirement System, from the State Trooper to the paper pusher. 

Here are the proposed changes that will be in force, if approved, for all SC State Retirement System participants who have 23 years or less of service: 

1) Participants will pay 7.5% of their salaries into the system instead of the 6.5% that they currently pay. 

2) The benefits based formula for retirement payments will consider the last five years of salary instead of the current three year salary consideration. 

3) Participants can retire after thirty years of service, but will not be able to collect any benefits until age 62.  Thus, a 22 year old State Trooper can work the roads for thirty years, but will have to wait ten years to draw a check. 

4) Those receiving benefits will not have the now automatic one percent cost of living adjustment, but instead the South Carolina General Assembly will determine the amount of, if any, adjustment that is made. 

All of that seems well and good for people who have jobs similar to those in the private sector.  VUI has contended for a long time now that such people should have a contribution based retirement plan supplemented with Social Security like the rest of us who work so called "normal" jobs do.  

But, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and first responders should be treated differently.  It might offend teachers and other government employees, but so be it. Those in law enforcement, fire fighting and first responding are at another level in the physical demand and danger that they face.  They are also at another level in the service that they give the state and local communities.  They protect lives.  They save lives.  They protect and save our very way of life on the front line.  For that, they should be rewarded with a retirement plan that recognizes what they do. 

Again, teachers and other government employees can and do make a difference in this world.  There is no arguing that.  But, they are not asked to protect us from the guy with a gun, rush into the burning building, or save our lives as we ride in the back of an ambulance.  There is a difference.  And, it is a travesty that South Carolina's leaders do not recognize that in their reform efforts of the South Carolina State Retirement System.  
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