Mich. Unions, Conservatives Ally to Fight Pension Bill

Tuesday, 01 May 2012 11:47 AM

By Greg McDonald

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Unions and conservatives have formed an alliance of sorts in an effort to change a state Senate bill in Michigan that would give teachers fewer retirement benefits than lawmakers get.
The unions want to protect their members’ benefits and conservatives are pushing for public employee retirement plans to look more like private sector compensation packages to save taxpayer money, according to a report Tuesday in the Detroit News.

But either way, both sides say an effort by Republican state senators to make teachers wait five more years than lawmakers to qualify for retirement benefits and pay twice as much for health insurance premiums is just plain wrong.

“Now that the Legislature is enacting more rational retirement benefits for government employees, it’s fair to point out what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” said Jack McHugh, senior legislative analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank.

Retired Michigan teacher John Olekszyk, who heads a coalition of retirees and teachers unions, agrees up to a point.

“They’re protecting their healthcare and public employees are not getting the same level of protection,” he told the News.

Michigan legislators have been wrestling over changes to the state’s public retirement system for several years in an effort to deal with an estimated $27.6 billion in unfunded liability for health care alone. The system is facing another $17.6 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

But critics of the latest bill in the state Senate say it’s clear that veteran lawmakers would continue to get health and retirement benefits at less costs than their fellow public employees.

Still, state GOP Sen. Roger Kahn, the author of the Senate bill, argues that legislators don’t get the same traditional pension like teachers or other public employees and have taken pay cuts themselves to help resolve budget issues.

“There’s been no raise in pay for legislators this century,” Kahn said. “If you want to compare the legislature to the teachers, then they should take a $10,000 pay cut.”

According to the News, Michigan legislators are currently paid a base salary of $71,685 a year.

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