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Teacher retirement bills move to full House and Senate votes

Detroit students scored better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.
Mercedes Mejia
Michigan Radio
Detroit students scored better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.

The latest version of changes to the state’s teacher retirement plan passed through committees Wednesday. The changes were announced late Tuesday and received committee hearings early Wednesday morning.  

The House and Senate adopted identical amendments to bills their respective chambers had already introduced.

Democrats have largely been left out of behind the scenes negotiations between the governor and leaders of the House and Senate. Democratic Representative Winne Brinks voiced her frustration with the speed the bills were moving during a committee hearing.

“There’s a lot of information here, it’s a very complex bill,” she said. “There’s lives, many many lives that will be impacted by this and I think it deserves thorough vetting. Looking at the way this process is going now, I don’t think this is going to be a very thorough vetting.”

House Education committee chair, Tim Kelly says the bills were introduced weeks ago and has been an ongoing topic of discussion. He says the bills are not being rushed.

The legislation would offer new teachers a choice. They could have a 401K with a more generous match than the current 401k offering. Or they could have a 401k and pension hybrid. That plan requires teachers to assume more risk to the state's unfunded liabilities and contribute more than the current hybrid plan.

Kelly says these are attractive options for new teachers.

“Transitioning to a 401k style is best for everybody,” he said. “Not only does it eliminate wrongful assumptions on the state level, but it also provides an ample and I think more generous retirement package to the teacher.”

The bills come in large part from concerns about the state’s unfunded liabilities accrued from pensions.

Governor Rick Snyder was initially against the idea of changing the state’s retirement system. He said the current hybrid system is fully funded and in good shape. He didn’t support the original version of the bills that would completely close the hybrid system. It resulted in a stalemate between the governor and Republican leadership, with the governor left out of ongoing budget decisions.

Now the governor is on board with the newest version and state budgets are in the process of being adjusted to bring in the governor’s input. 

State Treasurer Nick Khouri said when it comes to having a hybrid system, “It’s a balancing act. What we were trying to do here is make sure we created this new hybrid plan that’s absolutely secure.”

Overall, if passed the bills would do the following:

  • Close the current Michigan Public School Employees’ Retirement System hybrid pension plan to new hires starting February 1, 2018.
  • Give new teachers a choice between a new 401K plan or revised hybrid pension-401K plan. However, teachers would be automatically enrolled in the 401K-style plan and then have 75 days to choose the revised plan if they want.
  • The 401K plan would get an employer match of up to seven percent of their annual salary. The school puts in four percent and if the employee adds another three percent of their salary, the state will also put in three percent.
  • The new hybrid plan would include a 50-50 cost share between the employee and the employer, including the costs of future (and yet unknown) unfunded liabilities, and other revisions to the retirement eligibility age, plan assumptions, and unfunded liability payment methods.  
  • There would be a trigger in place that would close the new hybrid plan if the actuarial funded ratio goes below 85 percent for two years in a row.

For more information, see SB 401 and HB 4647.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R