La. retirement systems losing members

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget meet Friday, May 17. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget meet Friday, May 17.

Louisiana’s two largest pension systems continue to lose thousands of active, contributing members, retirement officials said Friday.

So far, this fiscal year, 3,500 people have left the teachers’ system, with more departures on the horizon, said Maureen Westgard, executive director of the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana.

She said the reductions continue an upward trend since 2010 and could eclipse the 3,700 who left last fiscal year.

The system covers public school teachers as well as college and university professors and other employees.

The Louisiana State Employees Retirement System is going to lose about 7,000 members with the privatization of LSU’s hospitals, LASERS Executive Director Cindy Rougeou said.

Westgard and Rougeou reported their pension systems’ status as the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget reviewed, then approved their operating budgets for the coming fiscal year.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, asked about what impact the departures were having on the teachers’ system.

“It’s on a shrinking basis” as fewer people pay dollars that can be invested, Westgard said.

Teachers are leaving at a faster pace than in prior years. Parish school superintendents have said Jindal administration-pushed changes taking place in public education impacting their jobs have contributed to departures.

Westgard said 2,875 TRSL members left in 2010. Between 2011 and 2012, the number jumped from 2,994 to 3,700 — a 24.4 percent increase.

“So far this year we have had 3,501 apply for retirement or pending retirement right now. It should be close to what we had last year” when the fiscal year ends, Westgard said.

With the hospital privatization, Rougeou said LASERS is taking a proactive approach in working with those who will lose their state jobs.

Rougeou said some 7,000 LASERS members are targeted for layoff.

“We are trying to get information on who is to be laid off so we can audit their service credit to see if they are eligible” to draw pension benefits, she said.

“It is a significant issue,” she added.

Rougeou said about 2,000 will likely be eligible for full or reduced retirement benefits.

The two systems combined have about 137,000 members.

State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, said there are eight former employees of Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge who were within five years of reaching retirement when they were laid off with the hospital closure.

She pressed Rougeou for any assistance LASERS could provide.

Barrow filed legislation trying to create a new pension benefit for those affected by hospital layoffs but it failed in the House Retirement Committee because of costs it would add to LASERS.