Administration stalls bills giving retirees cost-of-living adjustments

The Jindal administration opposed advancement of two bills Wednesday to grant 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustments to some 100,000 retired state employees, teachers, school employees and State Police.

In response, the House Retirement Committee voted to sideline the legislation.

State Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, sought committee approval of House Bills 30 and 31 that would grant the benefit increases to retired state employees and teachers, respectively. The panel deadlocked on identical 4-4 votes. Jones then postponed taking up bills that impact school employees and State Police retirees.

As debate opened, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols sent one of her attorneys to oppose action.

Nichols’ deputy counsel, Ben Huxen, said the administration favors legislation that links the 1.5 percent raises to passage of House Bill 1225, a plan to put more money toward reducing the four statewide retirement systems long-term debts.

The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, and increases the amount of systems’ excess investment earnings that go to debt reduction.

The dollars would be steered away from a special account that funds COLAs, making it more difficult to provide them for the forseeable future.

“It pays down the UAL sooner,” Huxen said, referring to the systems’ unfunded accrued liability.

House Bill 1225 is pending in the Louisiana House. The Senate-passed COLA bills to which the Robideaux legislation is linked are also pending House approval.

State Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, said it would be prudent to have back-up bills for COLAs in case the package deal goes awry.

He said he didn’t want to see retirees who have not had pension boosts in six years go any longer without one.

“Will the administration sign the COLAs with the Robideaux bill?” asked Jones.

“I have not heard anything to the contrary,” Huxen said.

“You came here with the torpedo but not the flag,” Jones replied, of the impact on his bills.

Jones tried to amend his teachers bill to link it too with the Robideaux bill. But committee chairman state Rep. Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, said the committee could not take the “concept” amendment up.

So the vote occurred on the straight COLA bill for teachers which failed to pass. With the same thing happening on one for retired state employees, Jones opted not to take up the other bills.