Response to an open letter (11/5/09)

Nov. 5, 2009

By Terry Macaig

The Oct. 22 edition of the Observer carried a Guest Column written by Louisa Costantino-Foley asking if I support Vermont’s teachers.

This question is asked as I was appointed by the speaker of the House to represent the House on the seven-member Commission on the Design and Funding of Retirement and Health Benefits Plans for State Employees and Teachers. The commission was recommended to the Senate Appropriations Committee by State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding and Committee Chairwoman Sen. Susan Bartlett and, in its final form, excluded representation by both teachers and state employees or the unions that represent them. The treasurer is chairman of the commission.

I served on the State Employees Retirement Board for 20 years and chaired the board for 10 years. During that time, the state employees retirement fund was underfunded for three years and the teacher retirement fund was underfunded each year from the early 1990s until three years ago. No monies were transferred from the funds but insufficient funds were put in to pay the unfunded liabilities.

Both retirement funds provide modest pension benefits when compared to other statewide systems for teachers and state employees. In fact, the teachers’ system only provides health benefits to teachers with a premium split and allows their dependents to purchase health benefits at 100 percent of the premium.

The commission has met five times since being established in July. Information has been gathered and a consultant hired by the treasurer for approximately $10,000 to give an opinion on what benefits can be changed for current retirees, active employees and newly hired employees.

The commission has already recommended not changing any benefits for those currently retired.

Of particular concern to me is the possible recommendation that the teachers’ system be funded through the education fund, which would increase local property taxes. This is unacceptable.

Active employees deserve to have their modest benefits protected. Other states are trying to change benefits to get to where Vermont is now.

I do support our teachers and state employees in this effort.

 

Democrat Terry Macaig represents Williston in the Vermont House of Representatives.