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Lawmaker warns of failure of teacher retirement system

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Legislation passed by the Oklahoma House Tuesday would increase benefits for retired teachers, but one lawmaker warned that more benefits could break the already troubled Teachers Retirement System.

``The system is already heading over the hills,'' Rep. Wayne Pettigrew, R-Edmond, said during debate on the measure. ``This puts it on a death track.''

The measure by Rep. Kenneth Corn, D-Howe, would provide a cost-of-living adjustment for retired teachers and increase the amount paid toward a retired teacher's health insurance premium.

``Our teachers who are retired out there, some of them are barely existing,'' Corn said.

The measure would provide a benefit increase for retired participants and beneficiaries by increasing the final average salary used to determine the retirement benefit.

Corn said the measure is essentially a shell bill and does not propose a specific increase in benefits.

But Pettigrew said actuarial estimates indicate that an increase of $75 a month in the medical supplement payment for retired teachers and beneficiaries will never be amortized by the system without additional funding.

Pettigrew said the system already has $5.8 billion in unfunded liability and that deposits in the plan have exceeded withdrawals in just eight of the last 31 years.

``The state is required to pay this debt,'' Pettigrew said.

He said benefit payments from the plan are expected to rise from the current $571 million a year to $1.5 billion by the year 2020, when actuarial estimates predict that the retirement plan will run out of money.

Studies have recommended that the state create an entirely new retirement system for the state's teachers that would be fully funded.

The measure, House Bill 2326, passed 77-19 and was sent to the Senate for action.
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