Pension reforms sweep through Ohio Legislature

Sept 12 Thu Sep 13, 2012 1:24am IST

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Sept 12 (Reuters) - Five bills aimed at improving the funding status of Ohio's public pension funds won bipartisan approval on Wednesday in the state House and Senate.

The measures for Ohio's Public Employees Retirement System, Police and Fire Pension Fund, School Employees Retirement System, and State Highway Patrol Retirement System were passed unanimously in both Republican-controlled chambers, while a bill for the State Teachers Retirement System attracted only one vote against in the House.

Republican Governor John Kasich will sign the bills into law, according to his spokesman.

Many states have passed or are considering ways to ease growing pension liabilities to stop them from consuming more of their still-sluggish revenue at the expense of education, health care and public safety.

California lawmakers on Aug. 31 passed pension reforms aimed at saving billions of dollars over 30 years, but a special legislative session on pensions in Illinois last month ended with no agreement on cost-saving moves.

The Ohio legislation, which takes effect Jan. 7, 2013, includes various changes to increase the pension funds' bottom lines, including bigger pension contributions from employees, lower or capped cost-of-living increases for retirees and changes to when workers are eligible to retire.

"We know the changes are not popular, but they are necessary," said Senate President Tom Niehaus, a Republican.

He added legislation will not solve all the long-term pension problems and that the funds will seek more changes in the future.

Senate Democratic Leader Eric Kearney urged his caucus to vote for the measures, saying they protect retirement benefits for nearly 1.8 million Ohio public workers and retirees while not requiring additional money from taxpayers.

The recession and a growing number of retirees necessitated changes to allow the funds to meet their obligations and ensure long-term stability, according to a statement from Senate leaders.

Ohio's pension liabilities were 67 percent funded in fiscal 2010, according to a report released in June by the Pew Center on the States. That is below the 80 percent level considered fiscally healthy for public retirement funds but above several other states, including Illinois, which had the lowest funding level at 45 percent.

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