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Thu February 2, 2012
Court Ruling Protects Some Public Workers
Last year, lawmakers made huge changes to the state’s public pension system.
The plan cuts benefits and forces employees to pay more for their retirement.
But Wednesday’s Superior Court ruling found some of those changes go too far.
The ruling has left lawmakers and workers claiming victory.
The best news for employees in this decision is that people with at least 10 years of service are more or less untouchable.
The court struck down language that required the senior workers to kick in more for their retirement.
Public employees’ attorney Glenn Milner says the ruling offers real protection to public workers like cops, teachers and firefighters.
“It’s a good first step we think because it has once and for all settled the dispute that RSA 100-A is a contract between the state and public employees.”
RSA 100-A is the state law that establishes New Hampshire Retirement System.
“We didn’t win on every point, clearly.”
That’s Republican state Senator Jeb Bradley, the architect of last year’s pension reform plan.
“But in terms of being able to make changes to the retirement system for workers with less than 10 years, it upheld our position. And that’s where the bulk of the long-term savings are. So I think that’s a victory.”
Bradley says, if the ruling stands, cities and towns will face higher costs in the short-term, he puts the prices tag somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million dollars.
He predicts the Nashuas, Manchesters and Concords may be forced to let some employees go.
That kind of talk has firefighter Brad Hardie worried lawmakers will keep cutting benefits for workers like him....men and women with less than 10 years on the job.
“It’s open season on us...and they are just going to keep going after us because we are the easy target. They’ll do whatever they have to do to get what they want.”
The unions dispute that the ruling will amount to a significant loss in funding for the pension system.
Union officials point out that cities and towns are paying some $4 billion dollars over the next 26 years to help make the system more financially sound.
But Republican Representative Ken Hawkins, a well, pension hawk, says if more changes are needed to control costs for taxpayers, then so be it.
“The worst case is, you could be like Rhode Island. You saw what happened in Rhode Island. They lowered retirees paychecks, they changed everything in the system, because the court said they are going to go bankrupt. We’re doing, yes some changes, here. But nothing like what they did in Rhode Island.”
Workers and lawmakers both agree this case is far from over.
Neither lawmakers nor workers are completely satisfied with this ruling.
Which means the matter seems destined for the state Supreme Court, where justices will be forced to answer just when contractual rights for public employees take effect...is it after 1 year, 10 years, or not until a worker retires?