House Bill 269 would adjust cost of living for retired state employees

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 25, 2021

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For a number of the years, retired state governmental employees and their advocacy groups have called upon the N.C. General Assembly to enact a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to keep the value of their pensions at par with inflation.

On March 15, such a bill was introduced into the N.C. House of Representatives with 40 sponsors, including members of both parties. While COLA bills are introduced into the legislature basically every year, rarely do they arrive with bipartisan sponsorship from one-third of the chamber.

Richard Rogers, executive director of the North Carolina Retired Governmental Employees’ Association (NCRGEA) said that the state’s positive economic projections as well as legislators desire to best serve their districts make the potential for House Bill 269 much closer to becoming a reality for the state’s roughly 230,000 retired teachers and state government retirees.

“We’ve had numerous conversations with legislators to share the need for inflation abating adjustments for our retirees,” Rogers said. “When the pandemic hit, no one knew how dire our budget circumstances would become. That said, with the state showing one of the strongest recoveries in the country, getting our retirees inflation relief, especially as we expect inflation to increase, is imperative.”

House Bill 269 would appropriate $96 million in each of the next two years from the General Fund to provide a 2% COLA for teacher and state retirees or their beneficiaries whose retirement commenced on or before July 1. The COLA would go into effect on July 1 of this year.

Rep. Pat Hurley (R-Randolph), the House Joint Caucus Liaison, introduced the bill, joined by Jeff Zenger (R-Forsyth), Diane Wheatley (R-Cumberland) and Phil Shepard (R-Onslow) as primary sponsors.

Legislative members say that Hurley, a retired Randolph County deputy clerk of court, worked tirelessly to recruit a large, bipartisan slate of sponsors.

Hurley said the “time is now” to provide a cost of living adjustment.

“This week we’re telling our state retirees that they are not forgotten,” Hurley said. “We know they need relief and we’re working hard to deliver just that. We’ve raised salaries several times for our employees, now it’s time to take care of our retirees.”

NCRGEA is the largest association of state and local retirees in the United States with roughly 65,000 members in all 100 counties. Prior to the 2008 financial crisis, the General Assembly had provided COLAs through retirement system investment gains on a regular basis, but this has not been a practice due to the lack of steady financial gains in the retirement system. As a result, the value of the average pension, relative to inflation, has declined by roughly 20% during that time.

Rogers says he is optimistic about the legislation, and hopes it may couple with other efforts to provide government retiree tax credits and relief for government retirees who served in other branches of government.