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With NJ unfunded pension liability at $90B, panel advises cutting health benefits

New Jersey’s Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission has issued its final report on reforms it has said are needed to prevent public employee benefits costs from overtaking other budget priorities.

Despite unprecedented levels of funding and the dedication of state lottery revenue to the pension plans, the state’s estimated unfunded liability is now $90 billion, $10 billion more than in 2014, said commission member Tom Healey.

“While some progress has been made, it has not been enough,” Healey said. “The new governor, the legislature, public employees, and the citizens as a whole need to act to effect the comprehensive reform the commission suggests to make these benefits both affordable and secure.”

The commission has recommended that public employee health benefits be reduced and the savings be dedicated to pension payments.

Without more reforms, commission member Tom Byrne said, required pension payments won’t leave much money in the state budget for other priorities.

“We need to do it before the pension system becomes the Pac-Man that ate both the rest of the state budget — in terms of discretionary spending at least — and ate the retirement security of 800,000 New Jerseyans that depend on the pension system,” he said.

The pension funds will run dry in 12 to 14 years without additional reforms, Byrne said.

“There were certain people who wanted a stalemate until now, thinking that they would get a better deal in a new administration,” he said. “The fiscal constraints that exist aren’t going to change, and I think the sooner reality sets in about that the better off we’ll all be.”

The commission’s report is a blueprint for the next administration to consider, said Gov. Chris Christie.

“I hope this is a ‘Nixon goes to China’ situation,” he said. “I hope it’s that a Democratic administration and a Democratic legislature can speak truth to these unions and make them realize there’s no place else for them to go.”

Christie proposes slashing health benefits for pension funding

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Gov. Chris Christie speak on pension issues during a press conference on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
Amy Newman/NorthJersey.com

Gov. Chris Christie has released a report calling for cuts to health benefits for state and local government workers to shore up public pensions, and called on successor Phil Murphy to act on the recommendations.

Christie, a Republican who has clashed with public employee unions, said he would be willing to work with legislative leaders on a bill to reduce “platinum-plus” government health benefits in his last month in office, or leave the issue to Murphy, a Democrat backed by organized labor.

A report by the Christie-appointed New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission recommended cutting health benefits for state and local government workers by more than $4 billion annually, with the savings used to fund their retirements. Workers would receive health benefits equivalent to the “gold” level in the Affordable Care Act, which is the second-highest tier, covering 80 percent of medical costs on average but with high monthly premiums.

Christie said Murphy has a “Nixon goes to China” opportunity to impress on unions the need to reduce health benefits to free up money for pensions. Although Christie said he has boosted state payments to pension funds, for example by dedicating lottery revenue to them, the state has fallen farther behind on its ability to meet its obligations to retirees. The unfunded liability has increased by about $10 billion over the past three years, according to the report.

“In the end, it’s only the reforms that are going to solve this problem,” Christie said.

Pension study: Read the report

Christie: It was a ‘big mistake’ to replace him on Trump transition

Governor-elect: Murphy ‘confident’ millionaires tax will pass

In response to Christie’s comments, Murphy spokesman Dan Bryan said the governor-elect “remains committed to the state living up to its obligations as a first and necessary step and working in good faith with all sides on a sustainable path forward.”

Christie invited the Democrats who control the State House to send him pension legislation before he leaves office Jan. 16, saying such a move would provide them political cover from certain backlash from the unions.

“My argument to Democrats all along has been, ‘Do it while I’m here and blame it on me,’ ” Christie said.

Lawmakers have not given any indication publicly that they intend to take up pension legislation during the lame-duck period, and no such bill has been introduced. Spokesmen for Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus, did not respond to questions Wednesday about whether there is interest among lawmakers for such a measure.

Hetty Rosenstein, the state director for the Communications Workers of America, which represents 55,000 public workers in the pension system, said she would be “pretty appalled” to see such a measure taken up now.

“We had a promise of a constitutional amendment from the Senate president,” Rosenstein said, referring to a promise from Sweeney, later broken, to put a measure on the ballot last year guaranteeing regular state payments to the pension system. “It was already a betrayal. It would be ridiculous to pass this during lame duck.”

“Governor Christie had eight years to address the state’s pension funding failures, and he failed to do so,” said Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. “We look forward to working with Governor-elect Murphy to ensure that the state achieves responsible and sustainable pension funding going forward.”

The New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission report called for sweeping changes in how the state funds employee pensions, including rollbacks in health benefits, a constitutional amendment guaranteeing state payments to pensions over 30 years, and a transition from guaranteed pensions to 401(k)-style retirement plans for future employees.

Christie urged Murphy to act on the recommendations. He noted that Sweeney survived a political challenge by the New Jersey Education Association, which opposed cuts to pension and health benefits.

“We’re trying to dig out of this hole and put real money into it,” Christie said. “I don’t know, politically, with the positions the governor-elect has taken, how he intends to deal with it.”

New Jersey ranked last among the 50 states in an index of overall fiscal health by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The center’s 2017 ranking of states deemed New Jersey’s debt situation “dire,” noting that pensions have just 60 percent of the money needed to cover their long-term obligations, below the national average of 74 percent. Companies that rate the state’s creditworthiness have repeatedly issued downgrades and negative outlooks, warning that unfunded pension liabilities pose a threat to the state’s fiscal health.

Christie held a news conference with Tom Byrne and Thomas Healey, two members of the pension commission, to release the report and call on lawmakers and Murphy to take action.

“These are things that need to be done. We’ve been talking about them for eight years and pushing them and spending a lot of political capital on them,” Christie said. “In the end, though, if there’s not the will in the Legislature to do this, then we’re going to keep digging the hole deeper.”

Staff Writer Nicholas Pugliese contributed to this article. Email: nashj@northjersey.com

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Governor Christie says he had serious concerns about President Trump’s transition after the hiring of Gen. Mike Flynn. Christie spoke at a press conference in Trenton on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.
Amy Newman/Northjersey.com

Christie proposes slashing health benefits for pension funding

CLOSE

Gov. Chris Christie speak on pension issues during a press conference on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
Amy Newman/NorthJersey.com

Gov. Chris Christie has released a report calling for cuts to health benefits for state and local government workers to shore up public pensions, and called on successor Phil Murphy to act on the recommendations.

Christie, a Republican who has clashed with public employee unions, said he would be willing to work with legislative leaders on a bill to reduce “platinum-plus” government health benefits in his last month in office, or leave the issue to Murphy, a Democrat backed by organized labor.

A report by the Christie-appointed New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission recommended cutting health benefits for state and local government workers by more than $4 billion annually, with the savings used to fund their retirements. Workers would receive health benefits equivalent to the “gold” level in the Affordable Care Act, which is the second-highest tier, covering 80 percent of medical costs on average but with high monthly premiums.

Christie said Murphy has a “Nixon goes to China” opportunity to impress on unions the need to reduce health benefits to free up money for pensions. Although Christie said he has boosted state payments to pension funds, for example by dedicating lottery revenue to them, the state has fallen farther behind on its ability to meet its obligations to retirees. The unfunded liability has increased by about $10 billion over the past three years, according to the report.

“In the end, it’s only the reforms that are going to solve this problem,” Christie said.

Pension study: Read the report

Christie: It was a ‘big mistake’ to replace him on Trump transition

Governor-elect: Murphy ‘confident’ millionaires tax will pass

In response to Christie’s comments, Murphy spokesman Dan Bryan said the governor-elect “remains committed to the state living up to its obligations as a first and necessary step and working in good faith with all sides on a sustainable path forward.”

Christie invited the Democrats who control the State House to send him pension legislation before he leaves office Jan. 16, saying such a move would provide them political cover from certain backlash from the unions.

“My argument to Democrats all along has been, ‘Do it while I’m here and blame it on me,’ ” Christie said.

Lawmakers have not given any indication publicly that they intend to take up pension legislation during the lame-duck period, and no such bill has been introduced. Spokesmen for Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus, did not respond to questions Wednesday about whether there is interest among lawmakers for such a measure.

Hetty Rosenstein, the state director for the Communications Workers of America, which represents 55,000 public workers in the pension system, said she would be “pretty appalled” to see such a measure taken up now.

“We had a promise of a constitutional amendment from the Senate president,” Rosenstein said, referring to a promise from Sweeney, later broken, to put a measure on the ballot last year guaranteeing regular state payments to the pension system. “It was already a betrayal. It would be ridiculous to pass this during lame duck.”

“Governor Christie had eight years to address the state’s pension funding failures, and he failed to do so,” said Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. “We look forward to working with Governor-elect Murphy to ensure that the state achieves responsible and sustainable pension funding going forward.”

The New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission report called for sweeping changes in how the state funds employee pensions, including rollbacks in health benefits, a constitutional amendment guaranteeing state payments to pensions over 30 years, and a transition from guaranteed pensions to 401(k)-style retirement plans for future employees.

Christie urged Murphy to act on the recommendations. He noted that Sweeney survived a political challenge by the New Jersey Education Association, which opposed cuts to pension and health benefits.

“We’re trying to dig out of this hole and put real money into it,” Christie said. “I don’t know, politically, with the positions the governor-elect has taken, how he intends to deal with it.”

New Jersey ranked last among the 50 states in an index of overall fiscal health by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The center’s 2017 ranking of states deemed New Jersey’s debt situation “dire,” noting that pensions have just 60 percent of the money needed to cover their long-term obligations, below the national average of 74 percent. Companies that rate the state’s creditworthiness have repeatedly issued downgrades and negative outlooks, warning that unfunded pension liabilities pose a threat to the state’s fiscal health.

Christie held a news conference with Tom Byrne and Thomas Healey, two members of the pension commission, to release the report and call on lawmakers and Murphy to take action.

“These are things that need to be done. We’ve been talking about them for eight years and pushing them and spending a lot of political capital on them,” Christie said. “In the end, though, if there’s not the will in the Legislature to do this, then we’re going to keep digging the hole deeper.”

Staff Writer Nicholas Pugliese contributed to this article. Email: nashj@northjersey.com

CLOSE

Governor Christie says he had serious concerns about President Trump’s transition after the hiring of Gen. Mike Flynn. Christie spoke at a press conference in Trenton on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.
Amy Newman/Northjersey.com

Christie proposes slashing health benefits for pension funding

CLOSE

Gov. Chris Christie speak on pension issues during a press conference on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
Amy Newman/NorthJersey.com

Gov. Chris Christie has released a report calling for cuts to health benefits for state and local government workers to shore up public pensions, and called on successor Phil Murphy to act on the recommendations.

Christie, a Republican who has clashed with public employee unions, said he would be willing to work with legislative leaders on a bill to reduce “platinum-plus” government health benefits in his last month in office, or leave the issue to Murphy, a Democrat backed by organized labor.

A report by the Christie-appointed New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission recommended cutting health benefits for state and local government workers by more than $4 billion annually, with the savings used to fund their retirements. Workers would receive health benefits equivalent to the “gold” level in the Affordable Care Act, which is the second-highest tier, covering 80 percent of medical costs on average but with high monthly premiums.

Christie said Murphy has a “Nixon goes to China” opportunity to impress on unions the need to reduce health benefits to free up money for pensions. Although Christie said he has boosted state payments to pension funds, for example by dedicating lottery revenue to them, the state has fallen farther behind on its ability to meet its obligations to retirees. The unfunded liability has increased by about $10 billion over the past three years, according to the report.

“In the end, it’s only the reforms that are going to solve this problem,” Christie said.

Pension study: Read the report

Christie: It was a ‘big mistake’ to replace him on Trump transition

Governor-elect: Murphy ‘confident’ millionaires tax will pass

In response to Christie’s comments, Murphy spokesman Dan Bryan said the governor-elect “remains committed to the state living up to its obligations as a first and necessary step and working in good faith with all sides on a sustainable path forward.”

Christie invited the Democrats who control the State House to send him pension legislation before he leaves office Jan. 16, saying such a move would provide them political cover from certain backlash from the unions.

“My argument to Democrats all along has been, ‘Do it while I’m here and blame it on me,’ ” Christie said.

Lawmakers have not given any indication publicly that they intend to take up pension legislation during the lame-duck period, and no such bill has been introduced. Spokesmen for Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus, did not respond to questions Wednesday about whether there is interest among lawmakers for such a measure.

Hetty Rosenstein, the state director for the Communications Workers of America, which represents 55,000 public workers in the pension system, said she would be “pretty appalled” to see such a measure taken up now.

“We had a promise of a constitutional amendment from the Senate president,” Rosenstein said, referring to a promise from Sweeney, later broken, to put a measure on the ballot last year guaranteeing regular state payments to the pension system. “It was already a betrayal. It would be ridiculous to pass this during lame duck.”

“Governor Christie had eight years to address the state’s pension funding failures, and he failed to do so,” said Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. “We look forward to working with Governor-elect Murphy to ensure that the state achieves responsible and sustainable pension funding going forward.”

The New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission report called for sweeping changes in how the state funds employee pensions, including rollbacks in health benefits, a constitutional amendment guaranteeing state payments to pensions over 30 years, and a transition from guaranteed pensions to 401(k)-style retirement plans for future employees.

Christie urged Murphy to act on the recommendations. He noted that Sweeney survived a political challenge by the New Jersey Education Association, which opposed cuts to pension and health benefits.

“We’re trying to dig out of this hole and put real money into it,” Christie said. “I don’t know, politically, with the positions the governor-elect has taken, how he intends to deal with it.”

New Jersey ranked last among the 50 states in an index of overall fiscal health by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The center’s 2017 ranking of states deemed New Jersey’s debt situation “dire,” noting that pensions have just 60 percent of the money needed to cover their long-term obligations, below the national average of 74 percent. Companies that rate the state’s creditworthiness have repeatedly issued downgrades and negative outlooks, warning that unfunded pension liabilities pose a threat to the state’s fiscal health.

Christie held a news conference with Tom Byrne and Thomas Healey, two members of the pension commission, to release the report and call on lawmakers and Murphy to take action.

“These are things that need to be done. We’ve been talking about them for eight years and pushing them and spending a lot of political capital on them,” Christie said. “In the end, though, if there’s not the will in the Legislature to do this, then we’re going to keep digging the hole deeper.”

Staff Writer Nicholas Pugliese contributed to this article. Email: nashj@northjersey.com

CLOSE

Governor Christie says he had serious concerns about President Trump’s transition after the hiring of Gen. Mike Flynn. Christie spoke at a press conference in Trenton on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.
Amy Newman/Northjersey.com

Bills proposed to address underfunded pension, health plans

  • Underfunded systems could be forced to make changes
  • Republican-backed bills designed to address underfunded pension, health care liabilities
  • Bills could face stiff resistance

 Bills proposed to address underfunded pension, health plans

 Bills proposed to address underfunded pension, health plans

LANSING — Legislation proposed Thursday would require municipal pension and retiree health plans to annually report their finances to the state, and severely underfunded systems could ultimately be forced to make changes by state appointees.

The bills, introduced in both the Republican-controlled House and Senate and backed by Gov. Rick Snyder, are designed to ensure that local governments adequately address billions in unfunded pension and health care liabilities, according to GOP legislators. Democrats and police and firefighter unions, which had been concerned about potential benefit cuts, were studying the package and had no immediate reaction.

The legislation does not go as far as more sweeping bills — which died a year ago — that would have prohibited new municipal workers from qualifying for health insurance in retirement, made retiree health benefits a prohibited subject of collective bargaining and forced current retirees to pay more for health care. But the bills could still face resistance given their interplay with Michigan’s law that allows state emergency managers to run financially distressed cities.

Under a five-stage process, communities with significantly underfunded retirement plans would have to submit planned “corrective actions” to a new Local Government Retirement Stability Board comprised of three gubernatorial appointees. If the board rejected the plan or a local government could not agree on a proposal, the state treasurer would declare a financial emergency and appoint a three-person team to act as an emergency manager — with “broad powers” to rectify the underfunded status. The team, however, could choose not to impose measures if it decided they would “directly endanger the health, safety, or welfare” of residents.

Initially, a retiree health plan would be deemed inadequately funded if it is not at least 30 percent funded and costs the municipalities more than 10 percent of general fund spending. A pension plan would have to be at least 60 percent funded. The minimum thresholds would rise over time. The treasurer would issue a waiver from an underfunding status if the debt is being adequately addressed. Otherwise, the state board would become involved.

“If we don’t fix this problem now, communities with dangerously underfunded retirement systems could go bankrupt and fail to keep promises made to retirees,” said Republican Rep. Jim Lower of Cedar Lake. “This plan heads off that problem and gives local governments a warning system to prioritize and safeguard the benefits retirees and current employees expect.”

The introduction of the legislation came a day after hundreds of law enforcement officers and firefighters protested at the Capitol in support of their retirement benefits.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, a West Olive Republican, said the bills would give local governments and their unionized employees an incentive to live up to their retirement obligations.

“Why would a local community want somebody to have to come in and tell them what else they need to do to solve their retirement problem? They don’t want that,” Meekhof said.

Pension reform: Lawmakers might rethink plan to increase health care costs for retirees – The Courier

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Hoover talks about Kentucky legislators moving forward on the pension issue.
Tom Loftus/CJ/USA Today Network

FRANKFORT, Ky. – It appears the most likely change House members will make to gather sufficient support of the pension reform bill is to soften the provision that all current teachers and public employees pay 3 percent more for retiree health benefits.

Even Bevin administration Budget Director John Chilton mentioned a fairness issue with the proposal on Thursday in testimony before the state’s Public Pension Oversight Board.

Both House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, and Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said earlier this week the provision to deduct 3 percent more from all teacher and state and local government paychecks for their retiree health benefits was perhaps the one part of the Republican reform plan raising the most questions and concerns.

Eliminating it, or reducing it, may be particularly important in the House, where majority Republicans are struggling to make changes to the bill to secure sufficient votes to pass it.

Pension plan: Public employees would pay 3 percent more for retiree health care benefits

Thayer, who says the plan has sufficient votes in the House, said Friday morning, “A couple adjustments could be made to the bill to address the concerns of wavering House Republicans. The 3 percent provision is one of those. I don’t see that being eliminated, but some adjustment could be made there.”

The provision was initially explained as one needed to shore up the separate retiree health funds, separate from retiree pension funds.

But under the bill released a week ago, the health funds would be no better off because while more money would pour in from teachers and employees, there would be a reduction of an equivalent amount in what state and local governments put in. 

Kentucky’s pension crisis: Here’s the latest

Chilton told the oversight board on Thursday that the health plans are underfunded to the tune of about $6 billion.

But he acknowledged one problem with having all public employees and paying the 3 percent. “The dilemma arises because not everybody has the same benefits upon retirement,” Chilton said.

Benefits of state and local government employees differ depending upon when they were hired. When pension reforms were passed in 2008 and 2013 health benefits were lowered for future workers. And Chilton noted that current state workers hired since 2008 “have much less” of a retiree health benefit than those hired in years before.

Thayer warned on Wednesday that it will be difficult to make a significant change to eliminate this provision because it saves state government a lot of money – savings badly needed to help balance the state’s next budget that will require huge additional amounts for the pension plans.

He said the savings within the proposed pension bill will “minimize budget cuts” to priorities like education when lawmakers take up the budget at the regular legislative session in January.

More: Jeff Hoover sexual harassment report will complicate pension reform talks, lawmakers say

‘A pension is a promise’: Hundreds rally against proposed pension reform plan

Close schools for pension protests? Bevin says no, but some parents say yes

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Hundreds protest as part of Fund Our Pension rally in Frankfort
Marty Pearl, Special to Courier Journal

 

State workers: Your NC pension is in good shape. Your future health care is another story.

Good news for the nearly 1 million people in North Carolina’s pension system: It’s one of the most stable in the United States.

The pension plans for state government workers, teachers and local government workers are more than 90 percent funded.

The state’s trustees for both the TSERS pension plan (which covers teachers and state employees) and the LGERS pension plan (which covers local government employees) met Thursday to review the data. The boards meet every October to report the numbers for the previous year.

But not all signs are positive for the retirement of N.C. public servants. Here’s what the latest numbers show.

It’s a huge part of state spending.

In North Carolina, spending on state retirees’ pensions and health care is larger than the budget for the entire UNC System.

There are more than 950,000 people in the state’s pension system, including both active and retired government workers.

The average retiree gets less than $21,000 in pension benefits annually. Retirees also get health benefits if they don’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare.

“I’m spending almost $800 million every 30 days out of this office on pensions, health care and pharmacy,” State Treasurer Dale Folwell said in an interview Friday.

At roughly $94 billion, the pension fund is one of the largest investment funds in the world.

The pension plans are well-funded.

As of the end of 2016, the trustees reported Thursday, TSERS is 90.4 percent funded, and LGERS is 95.2 percent funded.

“It’s one of the safest and most well-funded pension plans in the United States,” Folwell said.

That’s backed up by a different, independent analysis released earlier this month by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which found only two state pensions – Wisconsin and South Dakota – closer to fully funded than North Carolina’s.

That Pew ranking used 2013 data, but N.C. Treasurer’s Office spokesman Frank Lester said that “even if you looked at the data today it wouldn’t change that much, due to the long term nature of these things.”

Being fully funded is the point at which the state is fully able to pay all of the pensions it has promised to people who will retire in the future.

Retiree health care is underfunded.

While the pension plan is close to fully funded, that’s not the case for retired state employees’ health care. In fact, it’s one of the most underfunded systems in the country.

In 2013, according to Pew, North Carolina’s retiree health plan was short by an estimated $25.6 billion. And the gap has since grown to nearly $33 billion, according to Folwell’s office.

That’s nearly five times greater than the pension plan – which Folwell said is about $7 billion underfunded – even though the overall spending level on the pension plan is twice as high.

“You might be asking yourself, ‘How can we have one of the best funded pension plans in the United States, and one of the worst health care liabilities in the United States?’” Folwell said. “We’re even behind Illinois.”

No money was set aside for retiree health care.

He answered his own question: “No money, for 37 years, has ever been put aside for that.”

That’s not different from the way most states operate. But it is very different from the pension plan, which is funded by investment returns, by state employees giving 6 percent of their paychecks and by matching funds from the N.C. General Assembly. The legislature pays nearly $2 for every $1 that employees contribute, Folwell said.

Folwell’s office backed a bill in the General Assembly earlier this year that would’ve set up a first-of-its-kind rainy day fund for the health plan if it had become law.

It passed the House but died in the Senate.

But it’s not just the lack of extra payments from the legislature.

Lester said it’s also that North Carolina used to let anyone with even five years working for the state qualify for a lifetime of free health care. That has since been moved back to 20 years, although people with 10 years of experience can qualify for partial health care payments in retirement.

Advances in medicine are also leading to greater costs.

“People are living longer,” Lester said. “That’s essentially your tension on this. If you come to work for the state when you’re 21, you could be retired for longer than you worked.”

It’s different for future state employees.

The General Assembly did act on state employee benefits this year. Legislators passed a new law in this year’s budget that anyone who becomes a state employee after 2021 will have to pay for their post-retirement health care entirely on their own.

While that new law will cut down on the state’s retiree health care costs in the long term, Folwell said he remains concerned about the short term.

“The prescription drug costs I’m incurring are going up about 8 percent,” he said. “The medical costs are going up about 7 percent. The governor’s budget and the General Assembly’s budget both only funded me around 4 percent.”

He said he doesn’t see his funding requests as a political issue, arguing that when the state is in better fiscal shape, and making state employees less worried about their retirement, both sides win.

“We’re in a position where when we succeed, the governor succeeds, the General Assembly succeeds and the taxpayer succeeds,” he said.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran




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