MONTPELIER — The pension reform plan proposed by the House Government and Operations Committee has been halted in its tracks Friday after thousands of teachers took to the streets in protest this week.
House Speaker Jill Krowinski announced on Friday that the House will be abandoning immediate action on a proposed pension plan for state employees and teachers that would increase base employee contributions toward retirement from 5% to 7.25% of gross salary for those not within five years of retirement.
The plan would have also increased the annual benefit on the average of an employee’s seven consecutive years of salary, four years more than the current requirement, and would increase the pension vesting period to 10 years, up from the current five. The proposal also eliminates the possibility of early retirement at age 50 for educators with at least 20 years of service.
“I’m disappointed, obviously. It’s going to affect everyone in years to come,” Gov. Phil Scott said during a press conference Friday. "It’s a $5 billion unfunded liability that has to be dealt with. If we don’t, we’ll be facing insolvency and that’s something we can’t let happen."”
Don Tinney, a high school English teacher who serves as president of the Vermont-NEA, thanked and credited the scores of educators who spoke out against the plan, which would have “have them work longer, pay more, and get less in retirement while protecting Vermont’s wealthiest from higher taxes.”
“We appreciate the Speaker’s decision to take a long, methodical look at our public pensions. Throughout the pandemic — and before — educators have kept their promise to Vermont’s students,” he said. “We look forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure that the state keeps its promise of a secure retirement to teachers and all public employees.”
The Vermont State Employees Association also applauded the decision, and said they would continue to fight for a fair and equitable solution to the deficit.
"VSEA members came together and fought hard to stop the pension cuts this session that would have hurt state employees and teachers," says VSEA President Aimee Towne. "VSEA is a powerful union that is on the rise. I am so inspired and grateful to the thousands of my sisters and brothers who stood up, took action and demanded to be heard. I am also proud of the teamwork demonstrated by our excellent staff and our allies who made this victory possible."
During a press conference Tuesday, Scott said the proposal is a concept at this point, and gave credit to the House and the lieutenant governor for bringing the issue forward. He said the state’s current $5.7 billion unfunded liability due to the current pension system is a problem where “ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away.”
“We’ve seen the warning signs for decades and ignored them,” he said. “… It’s not sustainable the way it is right now. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars on this obligation, but we can’t keep up.”