COLA Upped To Three Percent

JULY 1999 - House, Senate Come Through - Without
fanfare, the Massachusetts House and Senate have quietly delivered a
three percent pension cost-of-living increase to retired public
employees and survivors.

Utilizing
the FY'00 state budget as a legislative vehicle, both branches included
the necessary statutory language to make the 3% COLA possible.

This
represents a major breakthrough from the shackles of the consumer price
index (CPI) formula of 1.3%, which was the scheduled increase this
July. It has been proven that the CPI does not truly reflect the
increase of senior citizen living costs in Massachusetts.

As
we go to press, the House and Senate are currently awaiting the report
of a conference committee consisting of three members from each branch
before a final enactment vote on the budget can be taken. The
conference committee is working to resolve differing fiscal versions of
items contained in the budget.

Because
both the House and Senate voted the enabling sections, the 3% COLA will
automatically be part of the final budget that the two branches will
vote to accept before being sent to the Governor for his expected
signature of approval.

Pre July '98 Pensioners Eligible

State
and teacher pensioners who retired prior to July 1998 will
automatically receive this increase effective in their July checks. A
delay in the budget's signing could mean a delayed COLA increase
payment, but retroactive to July.

Locally,
city, county, town, authority and district retirement boards must
receive approval from their governing authority (city council, county
retirement board advisory council, etc.) before the 3% to pre-July,
1998 retirees and survivors can be paid.

It
is expected that most local retirees will receive a 1.3% CPI increase
in July and ensuing months while awaiting local approval to pay 3%
(retroactive). Since city councils and county retirement board advisory
councils meet on a regular basis, action should be forthcoming within a
few months. The greatest delay will be in towns that have their own
retirement systems and must wait until town meeting, which in many
cases will not be until next spring.

There
will be no change in the $12,000 base this year. With the percentage
more than doubled, a base change is impossible. The base is the maximum
amount of any pension to which the percentage can be applied. Under
this law a retiree with a pension of $12,000 or greater would receive
an increase of $360, as opposed to $156 under the previously scheduled
CPI formula. A higher base is a future priority.

Budget Journey Began In January

After
leaving the Governor's office in January without a COLA provision, the
budget's next stop was the House. At that point House Ways and Means
Chairman Paul Haley (D-Weymouth) added the 3% COLA language for state
and teacher retirees to the state treasurer's section.

In
order to provide for local government retirees, an amendment was
needed. This was co-sponsored by Rep. Paul Casey (D-Winchester), the
House Chairman of the Public Service Committee, and Rep. David Donnelly
(D-Boston). During House budget debate in early May, Casey successfully
carried the amendment on the House floor.

Prior
to the Senate taking action on the budget, Senator Brian Joyce
(D-Milton), Senate Chairman of the Public Service Committee, moved that
our Association's 3% COLA bill (S-1288), originally filed by Sen.
Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge) and Rep. Timothy Toomey (D-Cambridge),
receive a favorable report from his committee. The motion was passed
unanimously, giving further impetus to our drive toward a 3% COLA.

The
drive gained further momentum when Senator Mark Montigny (D-New
Bedford) Chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee released his
committee's budget recommendation on June 4, with statutory language
for state, teacher and local government retirees' 3% COLA included.

On
June 10, the Senate completed its debate on the budget with the COLA
intact, and there was great rejoicing at 11 Beacon Street.

Team Effort

"We
lobbied and fought hard to win this one, and believe me it was a mighty
big win," said Association President Ralph White. "Shawn Duhamel, Bill
Rehrey and Bill Hill of our lobby team did some great work. There's no
such thing as a eight-hour-day during budget debate.

"I'd
also point out that a large number of our members lobbied in their own
way with letters and phone calls. Members were contacted in certain key
districts and they really came through...They deserve the thanks of all
our members.
"But let's not kid ourselves - if the afore-named
legislative leaders and their bosses, Speaker Tom Finneran and
President Birmingham, hadn't given their ok, it (COLA) wouldn't have
happened. God bless the Massachusetts Legislature!"

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