And it doesn’t apply just to state and municipal workers who had to actually go into work during the pandemic; they must only have “volunteered to work… at their respective worksites or any worksite outside of their personal residence.” Employees who went in for a single day would also qualify. So do employees who worked from home but one day when the internet was down went to a family member’s home to work. (They meet the provision that you did your job from a “worksite outside of [your] personal residence.”)
Administrators, accountants, techies, teachers, finance officers, grant writers, trash collectors and all those paid with public dollars are potentially in line for the benefit. As currently written, state legislators are eligible to take advantage of the bill. More than half of the Legislature has signed on to H.2808. Support spans the political spectrum. The bill may provide a jump in pension benefits for those employed during the pandemic who have already retired.
Pioneer estimates that the bill’s cost would be in the billions of dollars. As of this May, the state pension fund, state Teachers’ Retirement System and the Boston Teachers Retirement system were underfunded by a combined $44 billion. Annual payments to the systems are scheduled to rise from the current $3.1 billion to nearly $12.4 billion over the next 15 years, and would be even higher under H.2808. The bill would also further burden over 100 local pension funds in the Commonwealth, many of which are already woefully underfunded.
Opposition is mounting on a bill that seeks to boost pension payouts for public employees who went to work throughout the pandemic at the expense of billions to taxpayers despite widespread support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
The Pioneer Institute, a government watchdog, sounded the alarm with a public statement that estimates the cost of the “broadly” worded bill “would be in the billions of dollars.”
The bill would let public workers cash in on three extra years of service for their pensions when they retire if they worked — or volunteered to work — outside their home anytime between March 10 and Dec. 31 of last year, according to the legislation filed by state Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik, D-Gardner, and Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield. Sen. Nick Collins, D-Boston, filed a companion bill in the Senate.
Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance spokesman Paul Diego Craney echoed Pioneer’s concerns, saying lawmakers “are attempting to boost some of their own pensions in a bill framed as crediting essential workers that risked their health in the earlier days of the pandemic.”
The bill has gained the signatures of more than 100 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons also denounced the proposal on Monday, calling it a “slap in the face” to anyone who lost their job or their livelihood due to COVID-19 emergency regulations.
The text of the bill, H. 2808/S. 1669, is brief. All employees of the state, its political subdivisions, and its public colleges and universities, a bonus of three years “added to age or years of service or a combination thereof for the purpose of calculating a retirement benefit,” if, at any point between March 10, 2020 and December 21, 2020, they had “volunteered to work or who [had] been required to work at their respective worksites or any other worksite outside of their personal residence.”
In subsequent reporting, government watchdog group The Pioneer Institute voiced its opposition. In a statement posted on their website, they criticized the broad coverage — acting as an unfunded mandate for municipalities, including workers even if they had worked outside their home for a single day, encompassing both blue collar and white collar workers. They estimate the bill’s cost at “in the billions of dollars” and point to a massive boost even for a single individual, the president of the University of Massachusetts, whose lifetime pension benefit would increase by $790,750.
And left out of Zlotnik’s proposal is a recognition that the state’s main retirement fund is 64% funded, and the teachers’ fund, 52%, as of 2019.
The state House Retirement Committee on Tuesday moved ahead on bills that could increase the pensions of part-time lawmakers up to 67% and at least triple what House Speaker David Ralston could receive.
The panel voted to do actuarial studies on three bills — all filed in the final days of the 2021 session. The studies — which essentially determine the cost of the bills — have to be completed before the committee can formally act on legislation during the 2022 session, which begins in January.
Part of the reason lawmakers can look at raising their pensions is that the 54-year-old Legislature Retirement System — which provides benefits to retired legislators — currently has far more money in it than is required to pay current and future benefits. That’s in contrast to the much larger teacher and state employee pension systems, which are funded in the 70%-to-80% range.
The legislative system, like those for other employees, has been funded partially by payroll deductions and partially by the state. But in recent years it’s been in such good shape that officials said taxpayers didn’t have to add anything to the fund.
Author(s): James Salzer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Publication Date: 18 May 2021
Publication Site: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution