CHICAGO — The Ohio General Assembly Wednesday is expected to approve a long-stalled package to reform the state’s retirement system.
The bills would implement a series of reforms to the state’s five retirement systems, which cover 1.1 million people, including giving pension boards more authority, raising the retirement age and employee contributions, and changing benefits.
The House Health and Aging Committee unanimously approved the five bills Monday, and the full House is set to take it up Wednesday.
The Senate is expected to take it up later in the day after the House vote.
The legislation follows the release of an independent review of the state’s pension funds in late July, which warned that the funds could go broke without legislative changes.
Unlike many states, double-A-plus rated Ohio does not face serious credit challenges from its unfunded retiree liabilities. It has managed its pension liability through regular fixed contributions and a 30-year funding requirement.
The retirement systems have a combined funded status of 67% as of 2011, down from 87% in 2008.
The Buckeye State is one of only seven states that has funded more than 25% of its other post-employment benefits liability, according to the Pew Center on the States. Ohio’s OPEB liability is 32% funded.
Ohio has five retirement funds, the largest of which is the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, which accounts for 96% of state employees.
Other changes in the five-bill package would set a target contribution for OPEB payments, automatic benefit changes based on certain triggers, as well as reduced cost-of-living adjustments and increased member contributions by 4% over the next four years.
The Senate passed many of the reforms in May, but the House opted to wait until the independent review was completed.
Ohio has a 14% employer contribution cap that goes toward the annual required contribution for the pension plans.
Any leftover money is used for OPEB costs. That means that less money is available for retiree health care if the pension system requires more funding, as experts say will be the case without the pension reform.
If approved and signed, as expected, by Gov. John Kasich, the legislation will take effect Jan. 7, 2013.
The reforms may end up appearing less effective next year when the Government Accounting Standard Board’s new accounting requirements take effect.