Frustrations about state pension programs aired

July 29, 2010|By DAVE McMILLION

HAGERSTOWN --Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater was nearly full Thursday night as state employees and retirees -- some venting frustrations -- gathered to learn about "serious concern" over the management of the state's pension programs.

As recently as 2000, 101 percent of the state's total pension liability was funded, well beyond the 80 percent benchmark that the federal government said is preferred by experts, according to a handout at the meeting from The Pew Center on the States.

By the end of 2008, the state had dropped to a 78 percent funding level and at the end of the last fiscal year, the level had dropped to 65 percent, according to the handout and Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, who helped lead the meeting.

State retirees are worried they could see a reduction in benefits and end up having to "decide whether to eat or take their medicines" to stay financially afloat, said Steve Berger, the Western Maryland representative for AFSCME.


Serafini; R. Dean Kenderdine, State Retirement Agency executive director; and a newspaper columnist familiar with the issues held the meeting to help state employees and retirees understand what caused the problems and what the solutions might be.

Serafini said the sharp decline in the funding level for state pension systems could be attributed to a lack of funding for the system, poor stock market performance and expansion of benefits.

Possible solutions might be extending the retirement age for state employees, finding additional or alternative funding sources for the system or re-examining benefits for new employees, according to Kenderdine and Serafini.

Kenderdine and Serafini emphasized that benefits cannot be changed for what pension recipients have earned so far.

After the presentation, those in attendance were allowed to ask questions.

Mike Keifer, a retired correctional officer who lives in Hagerstown, took one of two microphones to "vent a little."

Keifer railed over past actions of state government such as the time state officials proposed about a 300 percent increase in health insurance for state employees.

State employees were shocked, Keifer said, and the state later said the rates only would increase about 43 percent because it found a way to save state employees money.

Keifer said he was suspicious of the whole thing.

"We're accustomed to that kind of garbage coming out of Annapolis," Keifer said.

"We are tired of being lied to," he said, drawing applause from the audience.

Serafini sympathized with the crowd.

"I understand the angst," he said.

There are about 10 pension plans for state employees such as teachers, state police, correctional officers and judges, Serafini said.

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