The Buzz

SC lawmakers to tackle troubled state retirement system

S.C. House and Senate leaders are forming a committee to review the state retirement system’s unfunded obligations of $16.75 billion.

The panel is charged with finding ways for the pension system to meet its obligations in years to come.

The move comes three months after Republican S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley pledged to address the pension system’s unfunded obligations, adding the fix would “hurt.”

S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, and Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said Wednesday the bi-partisan committee — of six senators and six representatives —would begin meeting next month.

Lucas noted thousands of South Carolinians contribute to the retirement system “with the hope of receiving a positive return in the future” and entrust the state with investing their money “wisely.”

“We owe it to them (state employees) to honor our commitments,” Lucas said.

“I’m confident we’ll roll up our sleeves, work together and make sure South Carolina honors its obligations in a fiscally responsible way,” Leatherman said.

Last month, the S.C. Fiscal Accountability Authority approved a 0.5 percent increase in the amount that the state’s more than 200,000 employees pay into the retirement system. The state and the cities, counties and other public institutions that public-sector employees work for also will be required to pay 0.5 percent more.

But that increase gets nowhere near solving the pension system’s problems, critics and the officials who run the retirement system have said.

Officials with the state Public Employee Benefit Authority, which runs the state’s retirement system, laid out several scenarios in April to help pay down the retirement system’s unfunded obligations.

The scenarios include requiring state employees to pay as much as 12 percent of their salaries annually into the retirement system. Those workers now pay close to 9 percent of their salaries after the July 1 increase took effect.

Advocates for state employees have said they already pay too much, leaving the state at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to hiring talented workers.

Members of the Joint Committee on Pension Reform are: Reps. Mike Anthony, D-Union; Jeff Bradley, R-Beaufort; Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg; Bill Herbkersman, R-Beaufort; Tommy Stringer, R-Greenville; Bill Whitmire, R-Oconee; and Sens. Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester; Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson; Mike Gambrell, R-Anderson; Darrell Jackson, D-Richland; Sen. Floyd Nicholson, D-Greenwood; and Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw.