Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
Legislation to reform state pensions and health care benefits was tabled for further negotiations this summer. SB512 and SB175 stimulated a lot of anxiety among current and retired state employees and heated communication with legislators. I worked with the sponsors to encourage this process for developing long-term solutions.
The bills, which advanced without discussions with all affected stakeholders, were aimed at reducing the cost of employee benefits. For years the state has enhanced employee benefits and not set aside the full cost for those benefits. Now as those benefits need to be paid, the state finds the cost too high. Pension payments alone will soon exceed the state’s investment in education.
Among the big questions to be decided by the legislation are fair employee compensation and legality of making any changes to current employee benefits. This is where negotiation with the affected parties is critical. Lawsuits can be avoided and benefits can remain fair through this process.
Private companies have adjusted employee compensation—including wages, pension and health care—over the years in response to market conditions. Public sector employee compensation has been very slow to change and usually is enhanced through contract negotiations.
Public sector wages that once were considered low when compared with the same type of private sector jobs are not now generally the case. Public sector employee health care benefit costs have grown greatly as people live longer, use modern procedures and medications, and experience increased cost of services.
I encourage representatives of all stakeholders to engage in thorough, sincere efforts to find a sustainable, fair compensation package. I will be sharing your views with negotiators.
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