A recent Dayton Daily News article revealed that the four largest public pension systems in Ohio (OPERS, STRS, SERS, Police & Fire) are spending more than $400,000 each year on outside lobbyists.
Each system employs its own in-house lobbyists. The systems contend that the outside lobbyists can get them meetings with legislators they may not otherwise be able to get, or get meetings faster than they might have on their own.
What is more galling than the systems spending this money on outside lobbyists in and of itself, is the fact that the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS, to which some AAUP members belong) are paying their outside lobbyist to advocate for reductions to the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for retirees.
The article stated: “[OPERS Executive Director Karen] Carraher said [outside lobbyist Neil] Clark and his team are assisting the pension fund now with an effort to get lawmakers to reduce cost of living allowances for retirees – something that requires a state law change. OPERS tried unsuccessfully in 2017 – while Clark was on retainer — to get authorization to change the COLA.”
Unlike OPERS, which needs legislative approval to make changes to the COLA, the STRS Board can make those changes itself, which STRS did when it indefinitely suspended the COLA for retirees in 2017.
It is abhorrent that OPERS is using its members’ money to pay lobbyists to cut benefits for retirees. OPERS leaders might say reductions to — or elimination of — the COLA is necessary for the solvency and longevity of the system, but tinkering with the COLA isn’t the only solution. It is past time that OPERS and the other retirement systems ask that employers share in the burden of shoring up the pension funds. So far, only employees have made sacrifices.