Retired state employees haven't seen a cost-of-living adjustment in their pensions since 2008 and legislative efforts to boost their pensions last year were postponed to study how the state's retirement systems would be affected.
Retirees say the optics of the situation reflect poorly on the Legislature, despite the fact legislators did not approve raises for themselves.
"If the state's got that kind of money, they need to use some of it elsewhere," she said. "I know there are fewer legislators than there are teachers or retirees, but still, it's like a statement they're making that that's more important."
Since Boone and her husband retired, they've both returned to working at
Accommodating more than half of the state's retirees, the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System is the state's largest pension system.
The state has seven public pension systems. The others are for public employees, judges, police, law enforcement, firefighters and former wildlife and conservation employees.
It's disrespectful for legislators to get awarded hefty pay raises while retired teachers are scrimping to survive, said Hazell,
"It looks bad, but the thing about it is they keep making those bad decisions," he said. "Once or twice you could say it's just a lack of thoughtfulness, but after a while, it's almost overt. You get to wondering if they flat-out don't care."
Last year, the pension systems gave most retirees a one-time payment that, for many, was equal to 2% of their yearly distribution.
But legislators are being cautious about how and when they fund pension adjustments because just a decade ago, the state's pension systems were among the worst in the country.
From 2000 to 2010, the unfunded liability of
The health of the pension systems affects the state's financial ratings and ability to borrow money at lower costs.
As a result of the financial situation, legislators passed a number of pension reforms, including a 2011 measure requiring all cost-of-living adjustments to be fully funded at the time of their enactment.
But last year, after seeing growth in the pension funds, the state House nearly unanimously approved a permanent 4% pension adjustment for state retirees in six pension systems. The measure stalled in the
As a result, legislators asked for actuarial analyses of offering a 2% or a 4% cost-of-living adjustment. The studies will be complete by
He's also invited the heads of all the state pension systems to talk about the health of their systems and what they would look like if they gave retirees a pension adjustment.
Frix hopes his fellow legislators will see the state's retirement systems have improved dramatically.
"At one time in our state's history, we were one of the worst-funded pension systems in the nation," he said. "But because of former legislators and because of tough decisions that the Legislature made, along with many sacrifices that our retirees have made, our system has recovered significantly."
In 2010, none of the state's retirement systems were funded at or above 100%. Now, if you look at the systems as a whole, they're about 80% funded, which is typically the benchmark of a solvent system, Frix said.
"We've got some systems that are over 100% funded so I think the time is now to do [a COLA]," he said. "We need to be responsible about it, but we do need to do something."
Members of the board appointed by Gov.
"It just shows the need now that the cost of living has gone up that much that legislators get that kind of increase and that should reflect down to those retirees, who also depend on those legislators to approve their COLAs," he said.
The board made numerous valid points about why boosting legislative pay is a good idea, she said.
But she questioned how the board can have a conversation about legislators' pay when there are so many other Oklahomans who also need livable wages. State retirees haven't had a pension adjustment in 11 years, teachers still don't have the buying power they had 10-15 years ago and lots of Oklahomans are working multiple jobs just to get by, she said.
The compensation board decided in under two hours to grant legislators pay raises. But the process for retirees, teachers and state employees to receive additional compensation is nowhere near that simple, Albright said.
"How easy was it for a room full of people to decide that the Legislature needs a pay raise, but when we decide everyday Oklahomans need a pay raise, it's a much more strenuous process," she said.
Albright anticipates Oklahomans will not soon forget about the legislators' pay bump.
"I think the public will definitely have that in mind when they lobby their legislators on the issues that are important," she said.
The size of a retirees' pension check is determined by a formula that factors in their years of service and final salary.
Bill and his wife, Dottie, get some relief from across state lines. After 26 years of teaching in
The pension checks from
Allison, whose retirement home is just a stone's throw from the beach in
"For myself, can I make it without them giving me a COLA? Probably," he said. "But there's a lot of people that can't."
Despite moving out of state, Allison still keeps tabs on
And he has a piece of advice for state lawmakers.
"Lead, follow or get out of the way," he said.
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