Higher ed seeks more state contribution to pensions

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Higher education executives sought and won support Monday for legislative relief from an “unintended consequence” of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s pension plan for new employee hires.

The state Senate Retirement Committee, without objection, approved Senate Bill 16, sponsored by state Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, which would retain current employer contribution rates.

The employer contribution would drop to 1.8 percent under Jindal’s plan instead of today’s 5.7 percent rate.

LSU system President William Jenkins, University of Louisiana system President Sandra Woodley and Southern University Chancellor James Llorens said the 401(k)-type plan as written would be devastating for recruitment and retention on college campuses.

“It’s a very, very challenging time for us, but now with the emergence of the change in retirement, we have a mammoth problem to deal with,” Jenkins said. “This is a recruiting season we are in ... This decision to reduce the contribution has a serious impact on recruiting.”

Jenkins listed other states’ employer pension contribution rates, including those surrounding Louisiana that are near or at 10 percent.

“This coming year, we would be at 1.8 percent,” Jenkins said. “It is going to be very hard to attract faculty to our university at that percentage.”

Woodley said it is already a “difficult time for us to recruit faculty after four pretty challenging budget years ... Resources are already low.

“We are particularly concerned about this,” she said.

“It’s as critical for us,” Llorens said.

Steven Procopio, chief of staff for Jindal’s Division of Administration, said he understands the issue. But, he said, there is also concern about the extra cost “higher education not necessarily will be able to afford.”

Procopio said there may be a need for compromise that allows each institution some leeway.

“It may not be a one-size fits all solution,” he said.

Long said he would work with the administration and higher education officials “and find what will work for our teachers and our state.”

SB16 heads to the Senate floor for further debate.