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Teacher pension vote crucial

October 18, 2005

More anxiety is ahead for West Virginia teachers, who once faced a choice between two pension plans - one underfunded and the other a do-it-yourself investment plan that many members found confusing.

Now that the Legislature is forcing everyone into the old, underfunded plan, it's time for the governor and state lawmakers to try again to fully fund the plan's obligations.

Give them credit for trying previously. Gov. Joe Manchin proposed a bond issue that would have funded the plans, while keeping the state's contributions from the general fund stable for years to come.

Voters defeated that plan, however, in part because of an ad campaign launched by Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Co.

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Now lawmakers must find a way to ensure teacher retirements will be funded without committing a great deal more money that the state doesn't have.

To do that, in June, enrollment was capped for the Teachers' Defined Contribution (TDC) plan, begun in 1991. Enrollment was then reopened for the Teachers' Retirement System (TRS), which, according to the Associated Press, has a guaranteed benefit.

How much teachers under TRS get depends on years of service and pay received while working. The plan is to merge the systems next year, provided TDC and TRS members vote to approve it in March 2006.

The rub, of course, is that TRS is already underfunded and TDC members who belatedly join TRS will have to make additional cash contributions to enjoy full pension benefits.

Whether the merger should be approved is a question teachers must ponder between now and next March. We recommend they gather as much information as possible and direct questions, toll-free, to 866-325-0098 between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. weekdays.

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