PROOS: Protecting and preserving local retirement benefits

Published 6:17 pm Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Our local public servants work tirelessly to help make southwest Michigan and our entire state a great place to live, work and raise a family.

Among them are the local police officers and firefighters who make tremendous sacrifices, and often risk their lives to keep our families safe.

The Senate has unanimously passed a package of bills that will better protect and preserve the retirement benefits promised to local workers and retirees.

Local governments have the responsibility to prioritize the funding of these promised pension and retirement health care benefits, which are currently $18.8 billion underfunded.

Efforts to resolve this problem start with a sound understanding of each local government’s current liability and funding situation.

Senate Bills 686 and 688-699 would implement the recommendations of the governor’s bipartisan Responsible Retirement Reform for Local Government Task Force, which included legislators, retirement plan experts, local government representatives and local employee union leaders.

The bills would create a stress system with additional reporting and steps for local governments with unfunded liabilities to develop and implement action plans to address their community’s debt.

The goal is to increase transparency, preserve local control and encourage local solutions so that locals stay out of financial trouble, and existing problems do not get larger or go unaddressed.

Uniform and consistent reporting by local governments regarding their benefits to accurately assess retirement costs will enable communities to know as early as possible if their retirement plans are in trouble — giving them the best chance to resolve the problem before it impacts local workers or retirees.

While many local government and labor leaders have already taken steps together to address their unfunded liabilities, these proactive reforms are designed to help locals that either are unaware of their growing debt issue or have not been able to solve the problem.

I want to thank all those who took the time to contact me for their involvement and their productive conversations. Hearing from residents is an important part of the legislative process.

Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, represents southwest Michigan.