Pension plan aims for ‘rank-and-file' state workers

by Heather Miller

Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to reform a state pension system plagued by rising debt targets only a third of the state's employees, leaving many to question the fairness of the package.

The majority of state workers will not be impacted by Gov. Bobby Jindal's plans to reform the state's indebted pension system, which leaves the 33 percent of state employees who would have to cut their benefits and wait longer to retire wondering why they're the ones being targeted over others.

Associated Press writer Melinda Deslatte notes in a recent analysis that lawmakers are largely to blame for the $18 billion debt within the pension system due to increased pensions for political allies and essentially rubber-stamping pension measures without looking at potential costs down the road.

Under Jindal's plan to reform the system, the past mistakes of former governors and legislators would be shifted to the backs of state workers - but not all state workers would be affected. Deslatte points out that teachers and public K-12 school employees, state troopers, prison guards and other law enforcement workers would be exempt from scaled back benefits and a push back in the age of retirement:

Now, the retirement systems are awash in red ink, and pension costs are eating more and more into the state's budget, taking away dollars that could pay for health care services for the poor, highway construction and educational programs.

Jindal has proposed a package of pension changes to boost retirement costs for thousands of rank-and-file state employees, shrink some benefits and push back the age they can collect pensions. New employees would get a cheaper, 401(k)-type of account.

But Jindal's plan is unequal, targeting only the rank-and-file workers.

The governor's top budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, told lawmakers that hazardous duty workers were left out of the proposed changes because "those people perform very critical services. They risk their lives." He said public school employees were exempted because the governor already is focusing on a massive education revamp - though that has nothing to do with retirement.

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