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Editorial: N.M. Taxpayers Can’t Make Pensions Solvent

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At what point did the Educational Retirement Board decide it was fair for taxpayers to put more into public pensions than the future pensioners themselves?

Strike that — fairness, at least to taxpayers, hasn’t come up in discussions to try to start to cover the plan’s $5.9 billion unfunded liability, the difference between what it has promised its more than 98,000 educators and retirees and what it has on hand.

Because if it had, there is no way the ERB would be proposing taxpayer contributions jump from 10.9 percent to 13.9 percent, while employee contributions go from 9.4 percent to 10.7 percent. In hard numbers, it means an employee making $40,000 would put in $4,280 annually while taxpayers would kick in $5,560.

Even though many of those taxpayers likely don’t have a pension of their own.

Predictably, the ERB is more protective of its members, restricting proposed reforms like a new minimum retirement age of 55 and deferred start date for certain benefits to new employees only — whether current workers started 20 years or two days ago.

After all, why make hard decisions that affect your membership when you can get someone else to pick up the tab? ERB Executive Director Jan Goodwin points out lawmakers approved the jump in taxpayer contributions years ago but never funded it. She is savvy enough to realize her members are also taxpayers, and the state simply has never had the cash.

Clinging to an empty promise won’t change that.

Unfortunately, last week the Legislature’s interim Investments and Pensions Oversight Committee unanimously backed the proposal. Meanwhile, Gov. Susana Martinez is ready to work with lawmakers but is wisely “very concerned by any proposal that asks taxpayers to increase their contributions.”

All New Mexicans should be. Having the public kick in 10 percent to educators’ pensions is already fair and generous. The ERB needs to find other means to keep its promise to employees.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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