Legislature readies to take on state employee benefits

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SALT LAKE CITY -- On Feb. 6, thousands of state employees took a stand at the Utah State Capitol. They want to preserve future retirement benefits.

But this week, Utah lawmakers will get serious about reforming the system. The way things are, they say, is unsustainable.

"We just took 8 to 10 percent of our payroll off the table for 25 years to pay for the increased cost of our pension," says Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful.

Lower state wages, now, are a symptom of the state's bloated pension obligation. Two proposals will make serious changes:

  • Senate Bill 43 would do away with so-called "double dipping," or re-hired retirees that collect pension and a salary.
  • Senate Bill 63 would reduce pensions new employees would earn, starting July of 2011. Current employees and rehired employees would continue to collect benefits.

Moving forward, Liljenquist says last year's market crash created a $6.5 billion unfunded liability in the system.

"The goal of pension reform is to contain that risk and remove it over time," he says.

There will be a battle, however, because a lot is at stake financially. As another senator put it, reform is never easy.

Liljenqust's two retirement system reform bills will go before a committee on Wednesday.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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Richard Piatt


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