Tag Archives: retirement

150 former legislators (including 2 felons) still have state health insurance

Two men convicted on bribery charges are among 150 former state legislators who are still enrolled in state government’s health insurance plan, reports WPLN.

Former state senators Ward Crutchfield and Roscoe Dixon were both convicted of bribery following the 2005 sting called Tennessee Waltz. Crutchfield (D-Chattanooga) served six months’ home detention, and Dixon (D-Memphis), four years in federal prison.

But both still receive taxpayer-subsidized health coverage, according to state records released to WPLN. Tennessee lawmakers can keep their health insurance benefits for life.

A law passed in 2010 stripped felons of their coverage. But that law did not apply retroactively. Dixon says denying him and others coverage would be unfair.

“Now, you got to remember, a part of my salary, I paid for that. Are you aware of that? It’s not a freebie.”

In all, 150 former lawmakers remain on state rolls, many long after they’ve moved on to retirement or second careers. They join more than 100 current legislators who are covered.

…Some Insure Tennessee backers say it’s hypocritical for lawmakers to take advantage of state insurance while voting down similar coverage for the working poor.

Dixon says he would’ve supported Insure Tennessee if he were still in the legislature. Current lawmakers, he says, should consider extending their generous health benefits to those who lack them.

“A lot of legislators have tremendous illnesses that haven’t done anything criminal,” said Dixon, “and they’ve been blessed to be part of the Tennessee retirement system. … They have a good policy, and Congressmen and the federal government have good policies, but yet still we don’t want to share that with all of America.”

Note: The WPLN story includes (at the bottom) a list of the former legislators still enrolled in the state health insurance plan.

More TN Teachers Retiring; Reasons for Increase Disputed

More Tennessee teachers are heading for the exits. Since 2008 the number is up by more than a thousand – nearly doubling – to a total last year of almost 2,200, reports WPLN. Exactly why is a bit of a mystery.
Some teachers see it as a response to a couple years of politically charged upheaval in state education policy. But state officials say it’s not so clear-cut, and even go so far as to argue higher turnover has an upside.
…State education researcher Nate Schwartz agrees many teachers getting bad scores may see it as their cue to leave, in what he calls “self-selection.” He says this isn’t driven by explicit state policy. And because so much has changed in the state over the last few years, Schwartz says it’s hard to pin down a specific cause for the retirement spike.
(Note: The article has a table showing annual teacher retirements from 2008 through 2012. In 2008, there were 1,195 teacher retirements, average age 60.5 years and average experience 26.7 years. In 2012, there were 2,197 retirements, average age 61.4 years, average experience 26.7 years.)
Besides the new evaluations, many teachers were outraged when lawmakers tossed out their collective-bargaining rights in 2011, as well as the old tenure system. But the uptick in retirements might have less to do with shifting policy, says Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, and more to do with the economy.
Huffman notes people retired less “across all professions” amid the recession in 2008, “because their retirement accounts had been hit so badly.”
So if a lot of teachers already put off retiring a few years, Huffman says it’s no surprise to see more leaving now. The point he wants to emphasize is that teachers ranked at the bottom are retiring faster:
“Two years ago our best teachers and our lowest performing teachers retired at the same rate. And after last year, those rates completely diverge, so that our lowest performing teachers were retiring at twice the rate of our best-performing teachers.”
That trend points toward improving schools, Huffman says.
But it’s worth comparing more than just rates. In terms of real people, last year more top teachers retired – 129 of them, compared to 96 from the bottom. So even though 5s retired at a lower rate, there were still far more of them gone. State officials argue the rate is a more telling comparison, since in 2012 there were 6,704 teachers with 5s on the 1-to-5 scale, while 1s totaled just 2,644.

Lawmakers Approve Changes to State Retirement System

The House has approved and sent to the governor for his signature a bill that changes the pension system for state employees and teachers hired after July 1, 2014.
Drafted by state Treasurer David Lillard, SB1005 would create what is described as a “hybrid” between the present defined-benefits plan, which guarantees retirees a fixed pension based on years of service and earnings, and a defined-contribution plan, which has no guaranteed benefit level.
The bill passed the Senate 32-0 and won 71-16 approval in the House. All no votes came from Democrats.
Explaining his no vote, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh praised the proposal as well designed, but said it is simply not needed in Tennessee because the state retirement system has adequate funding — unlike those in many other states.
But Lillard and sponsors of the bill — Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and Steve McManus, R-Cordova — said long-range projections show the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System could face problems and the legislation will head them off, without affecting current state workers and teachers.

Andrea Zelinski has details on the legislation:

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Lillard Outlines Plans to Change State Pension System

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s treasurer said Monday that he wants to overhaul the state’s public retirement system to cut costs and ensure it can pay out benefits for years to come.
David Lillard said he will propose legislation laying out the overhaul, even though Tennessee’s public pension system is faring better than those in most other states. Changes to the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System will only apply to state employees, higher education officials and teachers hired after July 1, 2014, Lillard said at a news conference. The retirement benefits of those currently in the system won’t be affected.
The state is doing better than its peers with similar plans, but earnings of the Tennessee plan have fallen short of expectations over the past several years, he said. The changes are needed because it’s uncertain how much money the retirement system’s investments will yield in the future, Lillard said.
He said that in 2003, taxpayers spent about $264 million a year to support the system. As of last year, that number had grown to $731 million, he said.
“Based on projections we have seen, the cost could go up by one-third or more over the next 10 years if changes aren’t made, which would push the taxpayers’ total annual expense above $1 billion,” said Lillard, adding that at least 45 states have enacted some type of pension reform in the past few years.

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Treasurer Pushes Change in State Retirement System

Tennessee may be contributing much less to state employee retirement accounts in the future based on a state plan to convert to a defined contribution plan, reports the Commercial Appeal.
State Treasurer David Lillard will unveil details of his proposed revisions to the state pension plan Monday, and the state legislature will consider the changes with bills sponsored by Rep. Steve McManus, R-Memphis, and Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge.
Lillard’s proposal will change — for future hires only — the pension plan from a defined-benefits plan to a hybrid plan that includes elements of defined-benefits and defined-contribution programs.
Defined-benefits plans guarantee retirees a fixed pension benefit based on their years of service and earnings, while defined-contribution plans do not have guaranteed payment levels but rather specified contribution levels by the employer. The benefit payments may rise and fall with their underlying investments.
The state’s pension plan is part of the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, established in 1972 and which today covers state government workers, employees of the state’s public higher education system, local public school teachers statewide and employees of about 485 towns, cities, counties, utility districts and other local entities that choose to participate in the state-run plan. All nonstate entities pay their own costs.

With Cities Pulling Out of State Pension Plan, New Options Offered

The Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System bills itself as “one of the best-funded pension plans in the nation,” but some local governments have been pulling their new hires out of the plan, reports Hank Hayes.
The city of Kingsport did. So did Johnson City and Tri-Cities Regional Airport. The reason: These cash-strapped political entities have found their contributions into TCRS to be too costly.
“Fifty-four (governmental entities) were at or above 15 percent of payroll (with TCRS employer contributions). … Speaking as a former county commissioner, that tells me they are under a bit of funding pressure,” said Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard Jr., who oversees TCRS.
For instance, TCRA’s TCRS contribution expense is almost 18 percent of payroll. The airport decided to go with a different defined contribution plan that would have a maximum 9 percent of payroll cost.
Kingsport’s and Johnson City’s TCRS pullout, in particular, got Lillard’s attention.
“These are all issues of concern to us because these are significant-size local governments, and they are entities participating in the system for many, many years — some going back to 1948,” he noted.
So Lillard hit the road last fall and did listening sessions with more than 200 local government officials about their future with the state’s pension plan.
Proposals from those meetings resulted in legislation passed this year to create three less costly investment options.
TCRS says the bill, scheduled to go into effect on July 1, would not apply to current local government hires, state employees, K-12 teachers or higher education workers. No local governments are required to make any changes. The provisions are only effective if adopted by local governments, according to TCRS.

On Jimmy Naifeh’s Retirement Announcement (including text)

House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh announced today that he would not seek election to another term. Here’s the news release issued by his office:
News release:
NASHVILLE – Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington) announced today on the House floor that he will not seek re-election to his district 81 seat this fall. Naifeh has served in the House of Representatives for 38-years, 18 of which he spent as Speaker of the House.
“Governor McWherter always told me when it was time to go home, I’d know it. After talking with my family and friends, I believe the time has come for me to pass the torch to the next generation of leaders,” said Speaker Naifeh. “All told, I’ve given 40 years of my life to public service: 38 in the legislature and two as an Infantry Officer in the Army. Now I’m looking forward to a little more time for myself and a lot more time with my grandkids.”
Naifeh was elected to the House of Representatives in 1974, after losing his first bid for office in 1972 by 13 votes. Since that time he has never lost an election. In addition to being the longest serving Speaker of the House in Tennessee history, Naifeh served as Floor Leader, Majority Leader and President of the National Speaker’s Conference.
He has received numerous legislator of the year and service awards during his tenure, including the prestigious William M. Bulger award which is given every other year to one state legislative leader who has worked to preserve and build public trust and whose career embodies the principles of integrity, compassion, vision and courage.
“In all aspects of my life, I’ve always tried to be an effective leader. I think a lot of that stems from my army training. When I came to the House, it was no different. I got into leadership during my second term with the ultimate goal of becoming Speaker. I achieved that goal and I’m proud of what I accomplished during that time.”
Naifeh is a long-time supporter of public education and places the Jimmy Naifeh Center in Covington, a branch of Dyersburg State Community College, among his most proud accomplishments. Outside the legislature Naifeh’s work with St. Jude is well known. For the past 19 years, he has hosted an annual legislative golf tournament in Nashville to benefit ALSAC/St.Jude, where he serves on the Board of Directors.
“My Dad came here from Lebanon and couldn’t even speak English! He always told me what a privilege it was to live in this country and that we had a responsibility to give back. Whether it was my work with St. Jude or in the legislature, I’ve always tried to remember that and use what power I had to improve the lives of everyday people.”
Naifeh has 3 children (Jim, Beth and Sameera) and 6 grandchildren (Sarah, Jay, Sam, Jameson, Jack and Katherine). He plans to explore future options, while spending more time with his grandchildren.
NOTE: More below, including text of Naifeh’s remarks and other news releases.

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Duncan’s Debt-Cutting Idea: Raise Fed Retirement Age

Duncan: Cut deficit by clamping down on early retirement (News-Sentinel/Collins)
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. is urging the congressional “super committee” looking for ways to lower the federal deficit to seriously consider reducing the number of federal employees eligible for early retirement, reports Michael Collins.
The Knoxville Republican sent a letter to the panel this week and argued that the government could save billions of dollars by prohibiting all new federal workers from drawing federal pensions any earlier than age 62.
“There are many thousands of federal employees who are in their 50s or even in their late 40s,” Duncan wrote. “As much as American lifespans have increased, we simply cannot afford to allow people to draw federal pensions at such young ages.”
The congressman stressed that he is not suggesting changing the retirement rules for anyone currently employed by the federal government.
“But what we need to start doing — and we need to start doing it sooner than later — we need to tell the new people coming in that we can’t give them as lucrative retirements as in the past,” Duncan said in an interview.
In 2009, the average age for federal retirees was 58.9, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. But under voluntary early retirement, an employee with 20 or more years of service can retire as early as age 50.