Contact: State Rep. Avery Frix
Office: (405) 557-7302
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Avery Frix (R-Muskogee) today hosted a bipartisan interim study examining Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) for those in Oklahoma’s seven pension plans. Several lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle joined today’s study, which was held before the House Banking, Financial Services and Pensions Committee.
Frix ran legislation last year that would have given state retirees a COLA. The legislation passed the House overwhelmingly but was not picked up in the state Senate. Instead, the Senate requested an actuarial analysis to see how the state’s retirement systems would be affected by a 2% COLA. The House made a request for an analysis of 4%. Those reports are due Dec. 1.
“My hope is to show that our state retirement systems have improved dramatically over the past decade, and we are now in a position to give our retirees the COLA they deserve and have been promised,” Frix said. “This remains a priority for the House, and we hope our colleagues in the Senate also recognize a cost-of-living adjustment is long overdue.”
State retirees last received a COLA in 2008. Since then, inflation has increased 19.5%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
State Rep. Kyle Hilbert (R-Depew) added, “Our public retirees spent their lives and careers dedicated to serving our state, and after 11 years of waiting, they deserve the long-term stability that a COLA would provide. The strength of our retirement systems is vastly improved compared to 11 years ago and I hope today's interim study will move us one step closer to delivering results for these state retirees.”
State Rep. Mickey Dollens (D-Oklahoma City) said, “House Democrats are appreciative of House Republicans for acknowledging retired public employees, including teachers, firefighters, and police officers deserve a long over-due cost-of-living adjustment. We look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues across the aisle to find a long-term solution for COLAs going forward.”
State Rep. Chelsey Branham (D-Edmond) said, “On the surface, the low unemployment rate in Oklahoma seems like a testament to our success, but in reality the number of underemployed and multi-employed Oklahomans turn that statistic on its head. Cost of living continues to go up and our minimum wage continues to be stagnant, which is forcing Oklahomans to have two and even three jobs to keep up. This is especially true of our retired state employees, who are struggling to balance the benefits of retirement from a life of service with post-retirement employment just to make ends meet. This COLA will be a big lift for the state, but ensuring that Oklahomans have a high quality of life is our duty. I am thankful for my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, who understand the COLA is a smart investment in moving our state forward.”
Both Hilbert and Branham serve on the House Banking, Financial Services and Pensions Committee.
The heads of all of the state’s pension and retirements systems – state firefighters, police, justices and judges, law enforcement, teachers and public employees’ – were invited to take part in the study.
Presenters gave a financial status report of the retirement systems, a history of how they are funded and the impact a 4% COLA would have on the systems’ funding ratios. Tyler Bond, research manager with the National Institute on Retirement Security, also spoke on the economic impact of retirees across Oklahoma. Tom Spencer, executive director of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System, also spoke on the Oklahoma Pension Legislation Actuarial Analysis.
Frix urges the state Senate to take up the legislation to grant state retirees a COLA in the upcoming legislative session. He said the state is in much better financial shape today than the last time a COLA was given. Teachers have been given a pay raise two years in a row as have other state employees. The state’s financial rankings also have improved. Several of the state’s pension plans are now more than 100% funded and most are 80% funded, which is indicative of solvency.
Frix said retired state employees are every bit as concerned about the overall performance of their benefit plans as anyone.
“Retirees don’t want to harm their own benefit plan, but they want the COLA they were promised when the plans were established,” he said. “Some retired employees have seen health insurance premiums rise at a rate that has outpaced their retirement benefits. Retirees have to pay into the plan just to pay their premiums.”
During the study, Frix also discussed retirees’ loss of buying power since they last received a COLA and the many retirees who do not receive Social Security.