States scaling back pensions to save money amid budget crunches; workers question fairness
BATON ROUGE, La. - Neil Carpenter took a pay cut when he accepted a job as a Louisiana state accountant more than 12 years ago, but he figured he would make up for the loss with a retirement check that would guarantee long-term financial security for him and his family.
Now the 41-year-old finds his life plan teetering as Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal seeks to restructure the pension system for rank-and-file workers, potentially requiring higher employee contributions and delaying the retirement plans of employees like Carpenter.
For years, state governments lured workers with the promise of lucrative pensions that provide nearly the pay that employees earned on the job. But after years of budget crunches, nearly every state has revamped public retirement benefits in an effort to shrink the long-term obligations that are billions of dollars short of what is needed to cover benefits.
The moves have triggered a legal and political battle over whether states are reneging on their promises to millions of public-sector workers.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that since 2009, 43 states have boosted the slice of money workers must pay toward their own retirement, changed the age when a retiree can get benefits or modified their pension plans in other ways.