Bill To Ease Teacher's Financial Woe Sent To Governor

Monday, April 30th 2007, 8:09 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Senate gave final approval on Monday to a bill that seeks to put the state's shaky teachers' retirement system on a path toward financial stability. Under the plan, contributions to the system would be increased by $60 million a year, when fully implemented in four years. That will raise the percentage of ``employer'' contributions to the system.

``When it comes to teachers' retirement systems, Oklahoma is currently rated the third-worst in the nation _ we must turn that around,'' said Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa. Mazzei and Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, are co-authors of the bill.

The teacher pension system in Oklahoma is only 49% funded and has a long-range ``unfunded liability'' of more than $7 billion. The bill sent to Gov. Brad Henry will raise that funding level to more than 80% by the year 2026.

``With this legislation, we will ultimately be able to improve our bond rating, saving the state millions of dollars a year _ but more than that, we can tell the 80,000 members of TRS that they can count on their retirement pensions when the time comes,'' Corn said.

The bill also seeks to minimize the impact of any reduction in dedicated taxes to the system during an economic downturn.

Employer contributions to the system will increase from the current 7.85% to 9.5%. The increase will be funded by legislative appropriations.

Henry applauded approval of the bill.

``Addressing the unfunded liability of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System was one of my top priorities this legislative session, and I'm pleased lawmakers have moved to address this critical issue,'' Henry said. ``I look forward to reviewing the details of the bill and expect to sign it into law barring any unforeseen problems.

``Our teachers perform an invaluable service for the state, and the least we can do is provide them with a stable pension system.''