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Editorial: State Pensions Need Repairs – All of Them

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In January the New Mexico Legislature will consider ways to ensure educators’ state pensions are solvent.

It’s a discussion that’s long overdue. Case in point is the Educational Retirement Board system, which covers about 97,000 state workers and retirees and has an estimated unfunded liability of about $5.9 billion — that’s with a “b.”

At least the people running the teacher pension fund understand the current system is unsustainable. ERB Executive Director Jan Goodwin says, “If you want to make changes that affect solvency soon, you have to make changes that affect current members.”

The board is discussing six proposals to put the pension fund on a course toward fiscal sanity during a series of public hearings. Board members will then make recommendations to lawmakers. Among those that make financial and common sense are establishing a minimum retirement age of 62, starting cost-of-living increases after age 65 and grandfathering in employees just years from retirement. And there’s no question that unlike last year’s failed attempt at pension reform, taxpayers struggling to fund their own retirements should not have to kick in more for the pensions of state workers.

ERB fixes that pass muster should be considered for the state’s other, more solvent but still troubled, Public Employees Retirement Association pension system.

And while they’re in pension mode, lawmakers should take a good, hard look at their own system.

According to a recent analysis by Journal investigative reporter Thom Cole, each lawmaker contributes $500 annually to the legislative pension plan, while taxpayers kick in about $21,429 per legislator per year. And unlike any other public employees, lawmakers who have retired from public service can collect both public pensions, getting a two-fer when everyone else gets just one.

That’s even sweeter than the ERB and PERA systems, which have no minimum retirement age and have created an entire class of hale and hearty 50-something public retirees.

In this tough economy, with so many New Mexicans un- or underemployed, overly generous pensions hurt the taxpayers who fund them, and fiscally unsustainable ones hurt the employees who are relying on them to be there when they retire.

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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