County Government Systems Seek To Reorganize

NOVEMBER 1998 - Legislation On Deck Before House - In
what has become a Beacon Hill soap opera of sorts, the retirement
systems of the state’s abolished counties are seeking legislation to
reorganize into regional retirement systems.

As
we reported in the September edition of the Voice, the state is set to
abolish Hampshire, Essex, and Berkshire Counties over the next two
years. Within the past year, Middlesex, Hampden, and Worcester Counties
have been eliminated. While still in operation, the retirement systems
of the former counties have fought to establish a new identity aside
from the troubled county government.

Legislation
that was passed to close down the county governments (Chapter 48, Acts
of 1997; Chapter 300, Acts of 1998) did not include provisions to set
the course for the former county retirements systems. Governor Paul
Cellucci vetoed sections of the county bill which reconstructed county
retirement systems. Cellucci has objected to provisions which require
the municipalities within the former counties to payoff the unfunded
pension liability associated with the former county employees and
retirees.

“The cities and towns
have some concerns about being strapped with the unfunded liability.
There has been some hope that the state would absorb the costs into its
own system, but so far that has not happened,” said Association
Legislative Liaison Shawn Duhamel. “Either way, it is important to our
members to have stability in the county retirement systems.

Regional Focus

Unfortunately,
the sections of Chapter 300, vetoed by the Governor in August,
contained language which revamped the former county retirement systems
into new regional systems. The focus of the new systems was to be the
municipal employees and retirees who encompass 90% of the systems’
membership.

As Chapter 300 moved
towards passage, another bill, H-5305 (An Act To Replace Retirement
Systems of Abolished Counties) was reported favorably by the Joint
Committee on Public Service. Chaired by Senator Richard Moore
(D-Uxbridge) and Representative Timothy Toomey (D-Cambridge).

After
being discharged from Public Service, H-5305 was placed before the
Senate Committee on Ways and Means for further review. Committee
Chairman Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) released a new version of the
bill, S-2331, which was quickly engrossed by the Senate.

The
language contained within S-2331 is identical to the language
previously vetoed by the Governor in Chapter 300. However, it is
crafted in such a way to survive the threat of another veto.

Upon
reaching the House, the bill was remanded to the Committee on Counties
under “Rule 33”. The legislative rule requires that any bill, which may
have an effect on county government, must be reviewed by the Committee
on Counties, chaired by Rep Antonio Cabral (D-New Bedford).

Originally
thought to be on the fast track, S-2331 has yet to be acted on by the
Committee on Counties. As of press time, it is unclear as to what
action the Committee will take on the bill during the remainder of the
session. County retirement officials plan to refile the bill in 1999 if
S-2331 is not passed prior to January.

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