NH Lawmakers Bogged Down Over Pension Reform Snag

June 2, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - New Hampshire lawmakers scrambling to hammer out an agreement on sweeping pension reform have run into a snag.

An Associated Press news report said state House and Senate conferees agreed on 18 issues affecting the New Hampshire Retirement System (See  New Hampshire Lawmakers Debate Sweeping Pension Reform ), but talks eventually ground to a standstill over a provision capping pension benefits for new hires after July 1, 2009.

According to the news account, the controversial provision would limit pension benefits to  100% of the highest year of pay. Firefighters and police objected it would hurt recruitment and retention efforts since they work overtime to boost their pensions.

Before walking away from the bargaining table, the conferees had agreed to give retirees a 1.5% cost of living increase and continued help with medical insurance and leave them with their majority on the retirement system’s board, the AP said.

The agreed-upon provisions would grant retirees a one-time, 1.5% cost of living increase capped at $450 for those with pensions greater than $30,000. The lawmakers also agreed to give retirees with the lowest pensions an extra check — $1,000 more for those with pensions of $20,000 or less and another $500 for those who retired before 1993.

Negotiators compromised on leaving the 14-member pension board alone, creating instead an independent five-member committee to make investment decisions. The governor and council would choose three committee members and the retirement system board chair would pick the other two from those on the board. All would have to meet new education and experience standards.

They agreed to give a temporary subsidy toward the medical benefit for those whose pensions are $20,000 or less. Single retirees would get $500 and couples, $1,000, for the four years the subsidy was frozen, according to the news report

Both sides agreed to shift $250 million from an account used to pay for cost-of-living increases into the main pension fund to ease increases paid by property taxpayers for local government’s contribution to the retirement system.

The New Hampshire Retirement Security Coalition — representing 70,000 active and retired public employees — backed the Senate’s version of the proposed revisions to the system (See  Public Worker Coalition Forms to Support DB, Retiree Health Care ).