Teacher retirement overhaul heads to Snyder

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A plan to entice more new public school employees into joining a 401(k)-style retirement plan is on its way to Gov. Rick Snyder after the GOP-controlled House gave final approval Tuesday to the plan.

Snyder is expected to sign the legislation. It was a compromise that Snyder helped negotiate and avoided a closing of the pension system to new employees that had prompted Republican legislative leaders to shut him out of budget negotiations until they reached a deal that culminated in a final 55-51 House vote.

The legislation plan would enroll all new teachers into the new 401(k)-style savings plan automatically, and new hires would have to opt out of it within 75 days of being hired to receive the hybrid pension plan — which is partially a traditional pension and partially a retirement savings account.

New teachers or school employees would still have the chance to select a hybrid pension option with guaranteed lifetime benefits. But it would be less generous and less predictable than the current offering.

The plan would steer more new teacher hires into a retirement system that’s less risky for the state. GOP lawmakers passed the reform to try to avoid adding to $29.1 billion in unfunded liabilities already accrued from a legacy teacher pension system that closed to new hires in 2010.

Supporters said the teacher retirement system overhaul would benefit new public school employees by making their retirement plans more flexible while helping the state avoid further pension debt to make sure it can pay remaining pensions owed to currently retired teachers.

Employees would also have to make bigger contributions if it’s underfunded and the plan includes a trigger that would shut down the hybrid system completely if it’s less than 85 percent funded for two years in a row.

House lawmakers approved the plan with seven Republicans rejecting it and all Democrats opposed after calling it a slight against teachers that takes money from the classrooms.

Lawmakers had to host one final procedural vote Tuesday after approving it last week. The Senate OK’d it in a 21-17 vote with opposition from six Republicans and all 11 Democrats.

The additional vote was required because a bill can’t become law in Michigan until it has passed one chamber, printed and laid over in the other chamber for at least five days.

Now, Snyder could sign it as soon as it reaches his desk.

Twitter: @MikeGerstein