If state had contributed, pension COLA possible

OlympiaDecember 10, 2012 

The Olympian article, “Pension ruling could hobble state budget,” overreached the facts.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham ruled that lawmakers violated state law when they repealed the pension cost-of-living adjustments last year. Our Supreme Court has ruled that the state may not unilaterally terminate a vested retirement benefit without establishing an offsetting benefit.

Before 1995, members of Plan 1 were entitled to different cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) benefits. The Legislature adopted a uniform COLA in 1995 to simplify the benefit calculation and administration.

Last year the Legislature repealed the uniform COLA and Wickham ruled that terminating that benefit without an offsetting benefit was a violation of existing law.

Employees complied with all the requirements for their retirement benefits.

They contributed 6 percent of their salary each month to the retirement system in exchange for a promised benefit. The same can’t be said for the state.

When the stock market was booming, the state lowered its contributions to as low as 1.3 percent, while employees continued to contribute 6 percent of their pay.

Had the state made its contributions, as the employees did, funds would be available for the COLA.

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