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Michigan Republicans clash over proposed changes to teacher pensions

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Tensions among Republican lawmakers are rising over the new state budget.

Some Republican leaders are trying to change teacher pensions to a 401(k)-style plan for new hires. But critics, including Gov. Snyder, say the change would create an unnecessary financial burden for the state. And teachers say the change would be the latest blow to a profession that's already struggling to attract young people.

David Crim is with the Michigan Education Association. According to Crim, the plan would keep new hires from paying into the pension system and eventually cost the state $2.2 billion.

"They're seeking a solution to a problem that does not exist. We've maintained all along that what they're doing has the potential to bankrupt the state," Crim said.

He and others think the current system works just fine. One of those people is State Senator Jim Ananich, a Democrat from Flint.

"People who educate our children, and many of the other folks who work in our schools, deserve to have pensions and at some point a secure retirement," Ananich said.

He thinks Republicans need to change the plan to work for the people who will be most affected.

But Republican leaders behind the plan say it's still evolving. Amber McCann is a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, a strong force behind efforts to change the system.

"There isn't a fully formed plan yet, and what is currently going on is discussions between the Governor, the Senate, and the House," McCann said. "At this point, the Majority Leader is still hopeful that those three entities can come to a consensus about how to move forward on addressing pension reform."

McCann said current teachers and retirees don't have to worry about the switch affecting them, as the conceptual plan would only affect new hires. She says switching to a 401-(k) style plan would give new teachers more flexibility in how they want to set up their retirement plans.

"Teachers could make their own decisions about their retirement, rather than depending on the state to make the decision for them," McCann said. "This plan is more in line with what their peers in other professions are experiencing, and what the expectations are for people of a new generation of workers. Pensions are what our grandparents had."

Republicans will continue to work on the plan in budget talks.

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