Two Top Ohio Lawmakers Spar Over Timeline For Pension Reform

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Ohio Senate Chambers(Photo: OZinOH)
Ohio Senate Chambers(Photo: OZinOH)

Changes to the state’s five pension funds were discussed at the Statehouse quite a while ago – but were never made. Now, a key lawmaker is promising legislation to make those alterations is on the fast track – over the objections of another critical legislator.

Senate President Tom Niehaus says it’s time to pass the recommendations that the management of the five pension funds have requested.

“It’s been over two years. And I have said before I am personally embarrassed that we have not dealt with this issue before, because every day that we delay it’s costing some of these, it’s costing between a million and two million dollars a day every day we delay.” Says Niehaus.

But over in the House, the chair of the committee that would hear pension reform is urging lawmakers to slow down. Rep. Kirk Schuring is a Republican from Canton, and says he wants to wait till the release of a report on those changes commissioned by the Ohio Retirement Study Council, a panel of lawmakers, appointees and pension fund executives who advise the legislature on policy that affects the funds.

“Certainly the five systems have very competent people, competent actuaries, and they have offered their opinions to us. But just like if you or a loved one was contemplating major surgery, you’d want to get a second opinion, The repercussions of what we do with this pension reform will last for a long, long time, as well they should.” Says Schuring.

The report is expected sometime this summer. As for the concern about the money that the pension funds are losing – Schuring says in the time he’s been on the Ohio Retirement Study Council, he’s seen funds go up and down, but he doesn’t feel passing pension reform is as urgent as Niehaus does.

“Changes are needed; we need to do it sometime this year.” Says Schuring. “I don’t think we’re at a crisis yet. Pew has done a number of different reports on the status of our five retirement systems in Ohio, and I have not heard the word ‘crisis’ used yet. Other states are in that situation. We are not.”

But Niehaus says Schuring’s reservations don’t change his timeline of getting pension reform through the Senate by summer recess.

“That’s not my problem. It’s my hope that the House will reconsider. They will have an opportunity to do that as we pass legislation or they could take it up in the fall, but that’s their schedule.”

Niehaus says he’s also worried about retiree health care, which isn’t required by law but is available. But Schuring says he’s concerned that the retirement funds’ recommended changes might cut benefits to retirees to make more money available for health care, and that the study expected this summer would examine that issue.