Edmonson won’t take retirement boost

State Police Col. Mike Edmonson said Friday he will not accept the enhanced pension benefits granted as a result of a controversial last-minute law change.

Edmonson said he wants the Legislature to revisit the issue in its 2015 session as separate legislation.

“It’s been too much of a distraction,” he said. “It takes away from what is most important: the citizens of the state and troopers working every day.

“I feel in my heart it’s the right thing to do,” said Edmonson, who has 34 years at State Police. “Whether I deserve it or not, that will be determined at a later time.”

The Edmonson retirement provision was added to an unrelated bill on June 2, the last day of the legislative session. No hearings had been held on the provision that affected only Edmonson and one other veteran trooper. It surfaced as an addition to another bill in a conference committee. On Friday, state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, issued a statement saying he sponsored the change at the request of Edmonson’s staff.

The Louisiana State Police Retirement System Board has begun looking into the legality of the retirement provision’s passage, hiring Robert Klosner, a nationally recognized retirement attorney, to help with the research.

Board Executive Director Irwin Felps has pointed to a “lack of transparency” in the process.

State Treasurer John Kennedy has called for an investigation.

“We will bring it next year,” Edmonson said Friday. “I want the Legislature to say yeah or nay.”

He said he is not retiring for at least 1½ years, so there is plenty of time to address the situation.

He said he made the decision on his own with no input from the Jindal administration.

It is unclear what impact Edmonson’s decision will have on the other trooper to whom the law applies.

Kennedy said Edmonson made the right decision. “Any kind of change in retirement benefits should be debated, should not be done behind closed doors,” he said. Kennedy said he still wants the retirement board, on which he sits, to complete its impact analysis.

The new law essentially would have allowed Edmonson to receive lifelong pension payments based on the calculation of his higher colonel’s pay of $135,000 a year. That’s more than he would have received at captain’s pay, where it was frozen because of a 2006 decision he made to participate in the Deferred Retirement Option Program, called DROP.

“This only brings me to the level where other troopers are,” Edmonson said.

Under the old rules, a trooper had to make a decision whether to enter DROP when he or she reached 25 years of service or 50 years of age. DROP allowed troopers to continue working even though they were eligible for retirement. The downside was that troopers didn’t get credit in their pension checks if they started receiving higher salaries after joining DROP.

“Looking back, in 2006, Edmonson had no idea he would be promoted to colonel,” Felps said.

But he said that’s why the DROP program is cost-neutral to the retirement system. Some decisions made are good and others bad for the retiree — and it evens out for the system, he said.

Troopers did not have to enter DROP, but once they did, the decision was irrevocable.

Only Edmonson and the veteran Houma trooper are remnants of State Police’s old DROP program with the frozen benefit, which each gets in a lump sum after they ultimately retire. Both have continued to work past DROP and are paying into the system again and earning a separate added benefit.

Others who entered DROP with Edmonson and the Houma trooper already have retired and are living on retirement based on the decision made back then.

Regular DROP changed to what is called “back DROP” in 2009.

The system actuary recommended the change because the old DROP worked well for state employees and teachers but not for hazardous duty employees who often did not work as long.

Under back DROP, troopers wait until they are ready to retire then look back to see whether they want to base their retirement on their last three years’ pay or get a lump sum as if they had entered into DROP three years before, Felps said.

“You have total information at your disposal so you can make the decision. It costs money to have that back DROP in place,” Felps said.

Troopers ended up paying one-half of 1 percent more in contributions, he said.

Felps said there are two instances where the Legislature approved changes in the old DROP to help participants. Both related to the same issue — the Legislature changing the rate on which benefits accrued from 3 percent to 3.33 percent. Troopers made DROP decisions without knowing that the change was in the wind. So, in 2001 and 2003, the Legislature allowed for a recalculation of pre-DROP benefits at the higher rate or at least a 20 percent bonus benefit based on longevity. The changes positively affected the pension benefits of several dozen troopers.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.