House sidelines college professors’ pension bill

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The Georgia House has sidelined a closely contested bill, HB 516, that would allow thousands of faculty members in the University System to transfer their pension accounts to the Teachers Retirement System (TRS).

The bill barely won passage in the House on Monday by a 92-70 vote, just one vote more than the 91 required for a constitutional majority.

Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming) made a formal motion for the House to reconsider that vote, which under House rules kept the measure from moving to the state Senate.

The House agreed Tuesday morning to reconsider its passage of HB 516 and Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), the bill’s sponsor, asked that the measure be tabled.  “The bill is on the table,” Speaker David Ralston declared.

Delaying a vote on HB 516 is an indication that the measure might have a difficult time winning final legislative passage.

HB 516 would affect a special retirement plan that was established in the 1990s for faculty members at the state’s public colleges who wanted to leave TRS and take advantage of the stock market boom.

In recent years, the professors’ pension portfolios were battered by the stock market crash and subsequent economic downturn of 2008-09.  For several years, they have been requesting legislation that would enable them to revoke their earlier decision and return to TRS.

University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby pushed for the passage of a similar bill in 2011, but that measure died in the legislative retirement committees.

“It’s a little bit offensive to me, personally,” said Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) at that time.  “They made a choice – you make it and then you live with it.”

The University System has continued lobbying for approval of the retirement bill, which made it to the House floor for a vote this week and ran into legislative criticism again.

“There is no cost to the state or the TRS to allow employees to make this change today,” Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) said.  “But we are allowing them to revoke what had heretofore been an irrevocable decision.”

“There are 14,000 employees who could be affected by this,” Martin said.  “If all 14,000 people do convert, that could be a cost to your taxpayers of up to $28 million.”

Martin added:  “My fear is that we are opening the door to a future liability.  It could be almost $40 million a year.”

Coomer said the bill was requested by the University System to help them recruit and retain faculty members.

“Forty-six other states already have this program and they don’t want to lose any of their bright stars by not having options available to their employees,” Coomer said.

The House then voted, by a narrow margin, to pass the bill.

© 2014 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Christian Coomer , Chuck Martin , faculty pensions , Hank Huckaby , TRS , University System