State retirees push for pension increase in budget

Posted June 7, 2017 3:47 p.m. EDT
Updated June 7, 2017 5:12 p.m. EDT

— As the House and the Senate negotiate a compromise state budget, retired state employees and teachers went door-to-door at the legislature Wednesday asking lawmakers to consider a cost-of-living adjustment for their pensions in the final spending plan.

Bill Hargett, a retired police chief of Emerald Isle, said that, after 33 years of service, he was counting on his pension to get by. But it hasn't kept up with inflation, and other daily and monthly costs have gone through the roof.

"I currently am paying $991.33 a month health insurance with a $5,500 deductible, which is about $12,000 a year, and it's making it very hard to live with all the other expenses of just getting by," Hargett said.

Budget writers are working with a surplus of nearly $600 million, but they have said they can't afford to give state and local retirees a COLA. The House budget gives them a one -time 1.6 percent bonus, while the Senate budget gives them nothing.

"It's been eight years since any reasonable cost-of-living adjustment has been given," said Richard Rogers, who leads the Retired Governmental Employees Association. "Over that time, inflation's gone up over 14 percent, and cost-of-living adjustments between 1 and 2 percent. So, it's just not adequate for our retirees."

The average pension is about $20,000 a year, and older retirees who left government service many years ago make even less.

"Salaries were much lower then, so their retirement benefit is a lot less, consequently, than some of the people even retiring now," said Pam Deardorff, who represents retired school workers.

Deardorff said Hargett said they hope the final budget deal will include a permanent COLA.

"Going backward, we just can't keep on. We just can't keep doing it, and keeping up other expenses that's required just to live," Hargett said.