There’s no question that allowing state retirees to stay eligible for enrollment in the state health plan is an expensive benefit. But it’s long been regarded as an incentive for people who might otherwise seek employment in the private sector to remain with the state: the combination of a decent pension with health benefits in retirement beats a larger salary in the private world that’s without that pension or partial health care benefits.
It is not a bad case to make, especially when the greater security of a state job is factored into the mix.
It’s also true that entitlements are expensive, in the billions of dollars, and that if the state continues the health and retirement benefits as they stand there will come a day when the General Assembly would have to infuse the benefits program with many millions of dollars.
And yes, as private companies trim benefits, which many are, the state benefits look all the better.
So much better that Sen. Andy Wells of Hickory, a Republican, is one sponsor of a bill to make changes to the state’s retirement benefits for the purpose, he and others say, of keeping the benefits plan solvent.
But before Wells and others start to design drastic changes to the benefits that would dramatically reduce them, State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who oversees the benefits for state workers and retirees, needs to produce all current figures and come forth with specific suggestions of his own. This is not a business to leave to elected representatives. Wells, for example, wants to have new workers, hired after July 2018, go to a 401(k) plan for which there would be some state match, but no fixed pension based on years of service. And they would not be eligible for the state health plan after their retire.
In his campaign, Folwell talked a lot about the benefits plans and how they were in jeopardy if allowed to go unchanged, and how he wanted to reconfigure the plans to ensure their long-term viability.
That’s all fine, but Folwell as treasurer is in a different position than Folwell the candidate, on the outside looking in. He should be the one gathering all data on the benefits plans, presenting exactly what reasonable projected costs are and without the partisan filter of a statewide campaign. The pension plan, for example, has always been touted as sound. Former Treasurer Janet Cowell issues a statement before leaving office that had it ranked as the third strongest in the country, over 90 percent funded, with the national median being 68 percent.
It’s true the health plan in its current form is a challenge, and one that needs to be addressed. But Folwell is the one to come forward with specifics, not legislators.