Legislature Overrides Governor's COLA Veto

SEPTEMBER 2003
- Romney Says Veto Was Internal Snafu - It was a wrong move that could have proven disastrous for state and
teacher retirees. In what can at best only be described as a lapse in
judgment, Governor Mitt Romney vetoed the 3% cost-of-living adjustment
(COLA) for retired state employees and teachers.

What
Romney had intended to do, as represented to us, was stop the transfer
of the annual pension appropriation to an "off-budget" status. Since
the language granting the COLA is included as part of the overall
pension funding section, our members' 3% increase fell victim to the
Governor's veto pen.

Despite the
claims that the COLA was not specifically targeted by the Governor, his
actions placed the much needed increase in jeopardy of not being
granted this year. Leaving nothing to chance, our Association's
legislative team descended upon the State House to actively lobby for a
prompt override of the veto.

"Whether
or not the Governor intentionally vetoed the COLA is not as important
as the impact of his action. This was not the first time that the
Romney Administration dropped the ball on the COLA," said Association
President Ralph White. "The Administration continues to display a 'we
know best' arrogance, while making foolish rookie mistakes."

Just
this past February, Romney failed to file the necessary legal language
granting the COLA in his FY04 budget proposal. He later filed a
correction to include the 3% COLA, but only after Association
lobbyists, working through Republican legislative leaders, brought the
issue to light.

Speaker Takes Action

Thankfully,
House Speaker Tom Finneran once again came to the aid of public
retirees and quickly put Romney's pension vetoes before the House for a
vote on July 7. In a show of bipartisan unity with retirees, the full
House voted 154-0 to override the veto.

It
was Finneran, along with House Ways and Means Chairman John Rogers, who
originally designed the plan to move the state's pension funding
mechanism off budget. Senate President Robert Travaglini and Senate
Ways and Means Chairman Therese Murray agreed with the House's proposal.

Therefore,
just one day after the vote in the House, the Senate voted unanimously
39-0 to also override the veto. This action superceded the Governor's
objections, thereby granting the full 3% COLA for FY04. Eligible state
and teacher retirees received this increase in their July checks.

By
moving the $830 million pension appropriation off budget, Legislative
Leaders have established a system whereby the Commonwealth's pension
funding schedule will no longer be the subject of political
gamesmanship. In recent years, a variety of attempts have been made to
reduce the state's contribution to the fund.

Some
of these changes have been the legitimate evolution of the fund, while
others have been a blatant attempt to divert monies away from the fund,
to be used for purposes other than pensions. Just in the last year
alone, moves were made to extend the pension funding schedule back to
2028 and turnover $180 million worth of unspecified surplus state
property in lieu of appropriating the required funds.

Under
the new law, each year the Department of Revenue will transfer the
funding amount, required under the state's pension funding schedule,
directly to the pension system. This will be done prior to state's
revenue estimates being set for the coming fiscal year.

"We
are in full support of moving the funding schedule into an off-budget
status. The system must be funded without gimmicks and games being
played. This new system goes a long way towards guaranteeing that the
funding remains on track," explains White.

Tags: