Maine’s cuts to teacher and state worker pensions must end
By Sen. Mike Tipping
We just held our first vote in the Labor and Housing Committee, where I serve as chair, and I’m proud to say it was bipartisan and unanimous.
Every legislator on the committee, from both parties, agreed that the governor’s proposal of a one-time, 1 percent cost-of living adjustment (COLA) to teacher and state worker pensions was far from sufficient as inflation for the year stands at more than 9 percent.
The 1 percent increase (for only one year and only applying to the first $20,000 of a retirement benefit) is part of the governor’s supplemental budget proposal (which modifies the current budget) and is in addition to the 3 percent automatic increase in the pension payments. Increases are capped at 3 percent because of a law passed under the LePage administration in 2011 which also raised the retirement age and froze cost-of-living increases completely for several years.
Our committee asked the legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Mills administration to consider a larger increase, both in this supplemental budget and in the next two-year budget that will be considered by the legislature over the coming weeks and months.
I’ll be working to find additional ways to support these retirees this session, both because of the difficulty they face living off a retirement plan that has seen cuts relative to the cost of living for the last decade, and also because these continued cuts impact our ability to attract and retain teachers and state workers.
At a recent legislative hearing, I asked John Kosinski of the Maine Education Association, the union representing Maine teachers, what effect these cuts (and federal provisions preventing teachers from collecting Social Security) are having at a time when local school districts are already facing difficulty hiring and keeping educators on staff.
“It’s definitely not helping,” he said, testifying that “all across our state, schools are struggling to provide students with certified teachers and qualified ed techs in order to provide the educational opportunities students need and deserve. It is not a good look for the professions and it certainly will not help our efforts to recruit and retain educators if pension benefits continue to erode.”
I’m grateful for the work that state employees and teachers do and that retirees in the Maine Public Employees Retirement System have done to build our state and educate our kids.
As a parent with two kids in third grade, I get emails and app notifications from my kids’ teachers nearly every day. I can see they’re going above and beyond just doing a job. They care about children and about our society’s future.
Teachers and other public servants didn’t enter these professions just to make money – they could make a lot more elsewhere – but that certainly doesn’t mean we should continue cutting their benefits. It’s time for our state to do better.
If you have input on this or any issue or need assistance to get in touch with a state agency, please feel free to reach out to me at Mike.Tipping@legislature.maine.gov or call my legislative office at 207-287-1515.