There’s not much new to recommendations made by Gov. Bobby Jindal to reform Louisiana’s retirement benefits. All salutary ideas, in the past the Legislature had faltered in passing them into law as the state’s pension crisis became more acute. Thus, we may expect to hear the same tired and inadequate defenses supporting the present regime from special interests as previously, even as it is imperative for pro-reform forces to spread the truth about the situation and succeed in getting the provisions enacted.
Jindal argues, in legislation that will have to be filled Friday in order to meet the 45-day cutoff and advertising requirements of legislative rules, that most new entrants into any of the state’s four comprehensive retirement systems that they go to a modified defined benefit plan, reform the defined benefit plan under which most state employees and retirees now are covered so that retirement happens later to mirror changes in Social Security rules, base defined benefits on a five-year rather than three-year average, grant cost-of-living increases only when sufficient earning to cover them have occurred, increase employee contributions by three percent, allow existing employees under the defined benefit program to enter the new one, called a cash-balance plan, and merge the two largest plans.
Part of the program would address the burgeoning unfunded accrued liability, at $18.5 billion for those four statewide plans and which is required to be at zero across all programs by 2029, by increasing the retirement age, the contribution rate, and restricting cost-of-living increases. The remainder would simply slow its rate of growth by putting many new hires into the cash-balance plan, which would be invested by the existing systems with a guaranteed value of no less than the contributions from the employee, and is portable except that moving to a new job would forfeit the state’s contribution (generally about equal to the employee’s but in some case much higher) and investment earnings.