BY JOE DORMAN
If you have been keeping up with the news, the petition for creating a $500 million bond issue to help local schools build storm shelters was officially filed. We have 90 days from September 18th to complete the task of getting a minimum of 160,000 registered Oklahoma voters to sign this petition to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow for this program to occur. The legislature has twice refused to discuss this issue, so I am hoping we will be able to get this to a vote and passed by the people. If you would like more information on this program, go to their website and read more about the program, or please email a request for signature sheets and help us get the petition signed with the emails provided on the site. You can learn more on Facebook by searching for Take Shelter Oklahoma for their page, or going to: www.takeshelterok.com
It was a busy week with more than storm shelters to be discussed. I held an interim study on the possible effects of pension reform in Oklahoma. Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-OKC and I both had persons in to look at the positives and negatives of changing the current seven retirement systems by consolidating them into one and also by changing the programs from Defined Benefits to Defined Contributions. I am very much opposed to consolidating the systems and I do not think it is in the best interest to modify the plans. State employees have not seen a pay raise in almost a decade, along with school teachers, so the retirement system is one of the few benefits they receive which keeps good employees in state service. This will affect public employees, teachers, firefighters, law enforcement and elected officials with any potential changes. I see this as a part of their annual salary which they receive, with this portion delayed until they retire and can draw those benefits.
Proponents of change say that this will increase salaries on the short term, and that is a possibility. The problem we would see is that less will likely go into retirement, which means those who do not invest their savings wisely will not have that monthly check in their later years. An additional problem with not having a stable defined benefit is that each retiree will see a different size check and if the market crashes, then there is less likelihood that the retirement program will be stable with fewer persons participating, along with the percentage placed in by the employer.
Under a defined contribution plan, the employees often bear 100 percent of the market risk and pay high fees for administrative costs, along with fewer protections for catastrophic injuries that lead to early retirement. This is very similar to the proposals we saw a decade ago to modify Social Security as proposed by some in the federal government. I have great fear that by tinkering with the systems, we will see fewer solvencies and also place the entire bond rating of the state at risk. Any proposal which is brought forth needs to be thorough and have many safeguards in place to not only protect those currently in the retirement system, but also those who will receive those benefits in the future, along with the solvency of the systems.
Other than studies and collecting signatures, I had the great pleasure of visiting with the Mission Academy last week. This is a school located in Oklahoma City which specializes in assisting students with drug dependency issues. The school helps the students overcome their addiction, while continuing their coursework to keep them up with their grade-level education. This program is very unique and provides an avenue for students, and their families, to help conquer the problems facing this young adult. I look forward to working with them in the future to provide greater services across the entire state. To learn more about this program, check out their website: https://www.teenrecoverysolutions.org/
Finally, I want to thank everyone for the great birthday wishes I received, and I also want to wish my mom, Jan Dorman, a very happy birthday!