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PUBLIC RETIREES INCLUDED IN STIMULUS

FEBRUARY 16, 2009: With the inclusion of non-Social Security retirees in the federal stimulus bill now before President Obama, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has won a crucial fight on behalf of public retirees.

With the help of several members of the state’s Congressional delegation, Kerry was able to win Conference Committee approval of his amendment to grant public retirees the federal stimulus payment. The payment, which is contained within the Make Work Pay provisions in the $787 billion legislation, equals $250 per retiree.

KERRY FIGHTS TO INCLUDE RETIREES IN STIMULUS

Members Urged to Contact Federal Representatives

FEBRUARY 10, 2009: Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is fighting to include retired public employees in the federal stimulus bill that is before Congress.
Contained within the vast bill is a provision that, if passed into law, will grant Social Security recipients a one-time $300 stimulus payment. This payment is in lieu of the federal income tax cut that workers are about to receive on their payroll withholdings.

WHITE RESPONDS TO PENSION FUND LOSS

Defends PRIT’s Investment Record

FEBRUARY 5, 2009: Much has been made about the investment loss of the Commonwealth’s Pension Reserves Investment Trust (PRIT) Fund in Year 2008.

Overall, the Fund lost $15.9 billion in 2008, falling from $53.7 billion to $37.8 billion, a 29.4 percent fall.

2009-2010 LEGISLATIVE PACKAGE

COST OF LIVING

1)  Increase Maximum COLA Base (Senator Walsh and Senator Jehlen)

Currently, the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) is determined by applying the percentage increase (i.e., 3%) to an eligible retiree’s pension, up to their first $12,000 of retirement benefits, which is the maximum COLA base. The $12,000 maximum base was established in the landmark COLA legislation (Chapter 17) enacted in 1997. Our efforts to increase the $12,000 base, during the 2007-2008 legislative session, have been well chronicled.

PATRICK BACKS 3% STATE/TEACHER COLA

Local Acceptance Now Underway

 

JANUARY 30, 2009: Governor Deval Patrick has included a 3% COLA increase in his FY 2010 budget proposal. The COLA, which will take effect on July 1, now must be approved by the House and Senate as part of the budget. If passed, this marks the thirteenth consecutive year in which a COLA has been granted by the state.

MUNICIPAL GIC: MEDICARE PART B KEY BARGAINING CHIP

JANUARY 1, 2009: Over the past eighteen months, scores of Massachusetts cities, towns, and various other governmental entities have been in open negotiation over whether or not to enroll local retirees and employees into the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC) health insurance plans.

These communities are using a process established by Chapter 67, Acts of 2007, commonly referred to as Section 19 or coalition bargaining. Under coalition bargaining, local retirees negotiate their health insurance benefits together with active city/town employees as part of a public employee committee (PEC). A weighted vote of 70% of the PEC (retirees have an automatic 10% vote) and approval of the governing authority is needed to join the GIC.

RELIEF FOR LOCAL RETIREMENT SYSTEMS

Association Supports Changes In Funding Schedules

JANUARY 22, 2009: At the core of any proposal for pension benefit improvements is its impact on the retirement system’s pension funding schedule. For the past 20 years, local retirement boards have been administering their systems in compliance with a pension funding schedule.

GOVERNOR URGES PENSION REFORM

Appoints White to Commission

JANUARY 16, 2009: In his annual State of the State Address, Governor Deval Patrick repeated his call for so-called pension reform, urging the Legislature to work with him to enact changes this year. Retirees should be aware that current pension benefits are protected by law and cannot be altered or repealed.

STATE GIC HALTS TALK OF MID-YEAR INCREASES TO COPAYMENTS/DEDUCTIBLES

JANUARY 10, 2009: State insurance officials have halted talk of mid-year increases in copayments and deductibles, which had been eyed to cover recent budget cuts. In October, $32 million was cut from the Group Insurance Commission’s FY09 Budget.

STATE FISCAL SHORTFALL REVISED

More Budget Cuts Expected

JANUARY 2, 2008: With Governor Deval Patrick now revising his fiscal shortfall in the current budget (FY09 budget) by an additional $1 billion over his October estimate of $1.4 billion, cities and towns are preparing for cuts in their budgets.

MUNICIPAL GIC: MEDICARE PART B KEY BARGAINING CHIP

JANUARY 1, 2009: Over the past eighteen months, scores of Massachusetts cities, towns, and various other governmental entities have been in open negotiation over whether or not to enroll local retirees and employees into the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC) health insurance plans.

IT'S PENSION COLA SEASON

Early Voting Process Urged

JANUARY 1, 2009: Although the next pension cost-of-living increase is not due until July, the process of voting for this 3% increase by our 104 local retirement boards has already begun.

OBAMA BRINGS HOPE TO SOCIAL SECURITY FIGHT

Illinois Retirees Hit By Offsets

JANUARY 1, 2009: Whether they supported his candidacy or not, the election of Barack Obama, as the 44th President of the United States, has brought a renewed hope to the thousands of members suffering under the Social Security Offset laws.

PENSION FUNDING CENTER STAGE AT STATE REVENUE HEARING

DECEMBER 15, 2008: The state’s top budget officials held a day-long hearing on the Commonwealth’s economic outlook for 2009 and the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget at the State House on Monday.

joint_revenue_hearing.jpgCo-chairing the meeting was Secretary of Administration and Finance Leslie Kirwan, House Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) and Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven Pangiotakos (D-Lowell). The full House and Senate Ways and Means Committees were also impaneled, asking detailed questions of state officials, economists, and the various business leaders who testified on the state’s overall fiscal health.

BOSTON INVESTS IN STATE FUND

December 5, 2008: At the December 2 meeting of the Commonwealth’s PRIM Board, it was announced that the City of Boston Retirement Board had voted to transfer 27% of the Boston Retirement System’s assets to the Commonwealth’s Pension Reserves Investment Trust (PRIT) Fund. The 27% transfer equates to the Boston teachers’ pro rata value of the $3.8 billion Boston pension fund. The 3-2 vote by the Boston Board took place at their October 29th meeting. A home rule petition, allowing the transfer, will be filed with the State’s Legislature.

GIC EYES RARE MID-YEAR INSURANCE CHANGES

December 1, 2008: Following a $32 million budget cut, officials with the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC) are grappling with the possibility of mid-year changes to the 16 insurance plans offered through the agency.

With the economic recession causing a sudden and severe drop in state tax revenue, the governor was forced to use his so-called “9C” powers to cut $1 billion from the current state budget in October. The GIC’s FY’09 budget, which totals nearly $1 billion, was reduced by $32 million resulting in the shortfall. In addition to cuts in most state agencies, 1,000 state employees were laid off.

IMPORTANT NEWS FROM STATE'S PENSION INVESTMENT BOARD

NOVEMBER 18, 2008: With most of our state’s municipal and county retirement systems having a stake in the Commonwealth’s Pension Reserves Investment Trust (PRIT) Fund, which has seen its market value drop by at least $15 billion this year, there has been some concern among the board trustees (board members) of these local systems.

In a November 14 letter from Paul Todisco, senior client services officer of the Pension Reserves Investment Management (PRIM) Board, which oversees the PRIT Fund, Todisco explains the policy that the Board has followed during this extreme market decline. Regardless of whether you are a member of the State and Teachers’ Retirement Systems, or one of our 104 local retirement systems, we feel that you will find this letter most interesting and reassuring in light of the current recession.

WEEKLY NEWS UPDATE

NOVEMBER 17, 2008: In an effort to keep members updated on the latest breaking news relative to Massachusetts public retirement, the Association has launched a new weekly News Alert, which coincides with our longstanding toll-free recorded hotline.

On Friday, November 21, 2008 the Association will hold our annual South Eastern MA meeting at White’s of Westport. The meeting begins at 1:00 PM and is conveniently located at the junction of I-195 and Rt. 24.

VOTE NO ON QUESTION ONE

OCTOBER 30, 2008: With just days remaining before the election on Novermber 4, Association officials are calling on members to VOTE NO on Question 1.

Advocates of limited government are at it once again, this time proposing to reduce state spending by 40%. Sponsored by the Committee For Small Government, a binding referendum will appear on the general election ballot on November 4, 2008 that asks Massachusetts voters to do away with that state’s 5.3% income tax.

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES WEIGH IN ON WEP/GPO

OCTOBER 10, 2008: While the Association has not taken a position or endorsed either presidential candidate, members have inquired about Senator McCain and Senator Obama’s position relative to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO).

 

As part of our efforts to repeal both regressive laws, the Association works closely with a number of national organizations and coalitions. One of our closest allies on the national level is the National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE), which recently conducted written interviews with McCain and Obama regarding their positions on Social Security, Medicare and other issues impacting retired public employees.

PENSIONS SECURE DESPITE ECONOMIC TURMOIL

SEPTEMBER 26, 2008: In light of the dire economic news coming from Washington and Wall Street over the past two weeks, the Association has received a number of calls, emails, and even visits to our Boston office from concerned retirees. Some have commented on their disgust at what is now occurring, but all have expressed a deep concern as to whether or not their pension is secure.
“To be clear, Massachusetts public pensions are perfectly safe and secure. Retirees have a contractual right to their pension benefit and it cannot be reduced or taken away,” said Association President Ralph White. “ Besides, our defined benefit system is designed to withstand the ups and downs of the global financial market. These are serious times for our country, but thankfully our pensions are not in jeopardy.”

LOCALS CONSIDER MOVE TO GIC

Negotiations Intensify With October 1 Deadline Looming

SEPTEMBER 22, 2008: As September draws to a close, local interest, in joining the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC), has intensified. In several communities, PECs (Public Employee Committee) have been negotiating with local officials to reach an agreement by this October 1, the deadline for contacting the GIC that they will be joining the state health insurance program next July (2009).

LOCALS DENIED OPPORTUNITY FOR HIGHER COLA BASE

SEPTEMBER 2008: Legislation, that would allow municipal officials to vote for a $16,000 COLA base for local government retirees, was rejected by a House/Senate budget conference committee this June.

BREAKTHROUGH ON COLA BASE

SEPTEMBER 2008: A vote by the House and Senate, during the closing hours of the 2008 formal legislative session, has made it possible for eligible members of the State and Teachers’ Retirement Systems to receive three-percent COLAs calculated on a new $16,000 base.

(Editors Note: Shortly after going to press with this story, contained in the September issue of the Voice, Governor Patrick vetoed the legislation that would have increased the base to $16,000 in 2008)

A MESSAGE FROM ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT RALPH WHITE

To All Members, Regretfully, our attempt to increase the $12,000 COLA base to $16,000 for members of the State and Teachers’ Retirement Systems did not achieve success this year. Although the House and Senate enacted legislation, which would have extended the base to $16,000, the bill was returned to the Legislature by Governor Patrick with an amendment that extended the base to $16,000 only for retirees with annual pensions of under $40,000. Before being sent back to the Governor, the Legislature added a further amendment that would exclude pensions of over $40,000 from the $16,000 base, but only for one year. After a one-year sunset provision, the $16,000 base would have been effective for all pensions. The Governor then vetoed the bill, saying it did not include his “compromise language” and expressed concern about adding significant costs to the Commonwealth’s large unfunded liability. Since at the time of the veto the Legislature had adjourned from formal session for the remainder of the year, there was no opportunity to override the veto. This could only be accomplished in a formal session.