Benefit increases Ok’d for retirees

Cost of living increases appear to be on the horizon for about 100,000 retired state workers, teachers, school employees and state police troopers.

The proposed 1.5 percent increases the first in six years for some c leared t he Senate Retirement Committee on Monday.

The raise must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and the governor before it can be implemented.

Money to fund the cost of living adjustment comes from special “experience accounts” of each of the four statewide retirement systems. The accounts are funded from excess investment earnings of each of the pension systems.

State Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas, linked together the fate of cost-of-living adjustments, called COLAs, for the four systems that serve retired state worker, troopers, teachers and school employees. U nder the change, if one group’s cost-of-living adjustment fails, then the bids for all four systems will fail.

“ We are all in the same canoe and we want these COLAs to be above any political games that may be played through the system,” Guillory said. The measures are Senate Bill 16, Senate Bill 18, Senate Bill 19, and Senate Bill 21.

Guillory said pensions have been “eroded by time and inflation” for retirees. He said a cost-of-living adjustment is “far from a giant step,” but one made possible through pension systems’ prudent investments and good market returns.

The COLA s, if successful, would mean monthly increase of about $ 29 i n the pension checks of a bout 35,000 retirees of the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System. Retirees must be at least age 60 and retired for a year. It will take $105 million of the $196 million in LASERS ’ “ e xperience account ” to cover the cost.

Frank Jobert, the executive director of the Retired State Employees Association, s aid the consumer price index has increased 1 3 percent increase s ince 2008 , which is the last retirees their pensions go up.

“ The cumulative effect for six years is very devastating,” said Jobert, noting the rising cost of food, medicine and gasoline.

About 6 4,000 retirees of the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana a lso would be eligible for a $29 per month pension check increase . The increase will cost $203 million and is funded through an experience account that has a $219 million in it.

About 11,000 Louisiana School Employees Retirement System retirees would get an average $14 a month increase . The system’s experience account contains $31 million and $15.9 million will be used to fund the increase.

Retired State Police troopers would received the s ame 1.5 percent increase .

The four bills now move to the Senate floor for debate.