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2009-2010 Association Legislative Package

The following bills have been filed by the Association for the 2009-2010 Massachusetts Legislative Session.


Retirees To Have Seat At Table

JULY 2009: Following on the coattails of a groundbreaking legislative report that aims to control municipal healthcare costs through sweeping changes in the local insurance law (Chapter 32B), the  state Senate has passed a provision, within its version of the FY'10 state budget, that significantly alters the governance of local insurance plans.


Local Adoption Almost Complete

JULY 2009: In a desperate rush to put together a FY'10 state budget in the face of a $2 billion revenue shortfall, triggering language for the state and teacher retirees 3% July COLA, was omitted from the Senate budget when that branch began budget debate on May 18.


JULY 2009: A June 18 email to members asking for opinions on Senate Bill 1929, filed by Senator Brian Joyce (D-Milton), which would require members 85 and over, to take a road test prior to being reissued a new license, has resulted in varied opinions.

As of July 6th, there were 118 replies from members age 85 or over. Twenty-one have already given up their license because of personal reasons, either physical or neurological. Of the remainder, 48 said they were in favor of a road test and felt they could pass such a test, 31 said they opposed such a test unless drivers of all ages were also tested, and 14 gave mixed answers, depending on driving records or cognitive tests.


Retiree GIC Contribution Rates Unchanged

June 20, 2009: On Friday, the Legislature approved the $27.4 billion Fiscal Year 2010 state budget, which is set to take effect on July 1. Despite the severe recession, that has resulted in deep budget cuts, the budget contains the full 3% COLA for state and teacher retirees. Nearly all local retirement systems have now approved the COLA for local retirees, which will also be paid in July.

While the Legislature opted to increase the insurance contribution rates for active state workers insured under the state's Group Insurance Commission (GIC), rates for retired state workers remain fixed at 90/10 (pre-7/1/94 retirees) or 85/15. Active state workers will now contribute 20% if they were hired prior to 7/1/03. Those hired after that date will contribute 25%.


Current Retirees Not Effected By Benefit Changes

JUNE 11, 2009: The Massachusetts Legislature has passed sweeping pension reform legislation that will not only impact the pension benefits of future public employees, but could also alter the benefits of current active employees as well.
However, the debate surrounding pension reform and the legislation passed today does not impact the pension benefits now being received by current retirees. Changes could impact those retiring after June 30, 2009.


MAY 2008: Association members recently received a postcard announcing new Internet-based services being provided by the Association. These Members Only services are designed to enhance the Association's ability to keep you informed. If you have not done so already, please email us at the address provided on the postcard to have your name added to our email contact list. You can also contact us directly at the numbers listed on your membership card.

In the coming months, we will announce new online communication features, including a redesigned Association website. These are critical times for public retirees. We will continue to do our best to keep you informed on the lastest developments impacting your public retirement.


MAY 25, 2009: With the passage of a 3% COLA increase by the state Senate last week, state and teacher retirees are all but assured of a July 2009 increase in their monthly pension. COLAs for local retirees are the jurisdiction of local retirement systems, 95% of which have now approved the full 3% COLA that will take effect in July. The COLA is based on the first $12,000 of one's pension, for a maximum increase of $360 annually.

Now that the Senate has completed its work on the FY2010 Budget, the Legislature wil begin its conference process, whereby a final compromise budget will be approved by the House and Senate. It is expected that the budget will be sent to Governor Patrick by the end of June, on time for the start of the FY10 Fiscal Year on July 1.


COLA & Health Insurance Key Items

MAY 19, 2009: The Massachusetts Senate is in the midst of debating the Fiscal Year 2010 budget. Paramount amongst the various issues being debating is how the state will grapple with the severe loss in tax revenue that is the result of the economic recession. Budget officials now project a FY10 deficit that could exceed $5 billion.

While the federal stimulus and state’s reserve account have helped to close the budget gap, the worsening economy continues to cut deep into the Commonwealth’s tax revenues. The Senate is now considering a 1.25% increase in the state sales tax, along with the creation of local option taxes (hotel, meals, etc) designed to help close the budget gap. However, severe spending cuts are expected to remain in effect, even if taxes are raised.


Spellane and McGee To Chair Public Service

MAY 2009 VOICE: Leadership changes in the House and Senate have instituted two new chairmen and vice chairmen for the important Joint Committee on Public Service.

New House Speaker Robert DeLeo has appointed Robert Spellane (D-Worcester) to chair the Committee. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport) will serve as the House vice chairman. The 39 year old Spellane and 50 year old Rodrigues are part of a new generation of leadership in the House.


Overhaul On Horizon In 2010

MAY 2009 VOICE: In the midst of the worse economic conditions since the Great Depression, plans are underway in Washington, D.C. to act on Social Security reform early in 2010.

Despite having received overwhelming support in the past two Congresses for a full repeal of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO), it has become evident that any change in Social Security would take place as part of a larger “reform” of the system.


Medicare Extension Costs Drop

MAY 2009 VOICE: A glimmer of good news has come to public retirees and employees who are insured under the state-run Group Insurance Commission (GIC). Once again the GIC has come in with insurance rates that are well below state and national averages.


Despite Pension Funds' Setback

MAY 2009 VOICE: Despite suffering huge pension fund losses as a result of the 2008 market meltdown, members of the Commonwealth’s 104 local retirement boards expressed faith that the market would recover by voting three percent July COLAs for their retirees.


Proposal Would Mandate Medicare Enrollment

MAY 8, 2009: A special legislative commission, charged with studying municipal reform measures and new local revenue sources, has issued a report that calls for changes in local health insurance plans.

If passed, each local community not currently enrolled in the GIC would be forced to conduct an analysis of their local insurance costs. If local costs are higher than the GIC, on a per enrollee basis, the coalition bargaining process would be triggered and benefits renegotiated in order to lower local insurance costs. Retirees would have a seat at the bargaining table under this proposal.


Emergency Room Payments Remain at $25

MAY 2009: Retirees insured under the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC) and enrolled in the Medicare supplement plans  will not be subject to the new $75 radiology copayment that takes effect on July 1. In addition, GIC officials have opted to maintain the current emergency room copayments for Medicare retirees, instead of the new $75 copayment being charged to enrollees of the non Medicare insurance plans


Budget Debate Begins, While Reforms Continue

APRIL 27, 2009: The Massachusetts House of Representatives begins debate on the Fiscal Year 2010 state budget this week. While the budget does include a full 3% COLA for state and teacher retirees and does not change state retiree insurance contribution rates, our Association is closely monitoring developments on Beacon Hill.

Association officials are deeply concerned about a proposed 25% reduction in local aid, along with a $1.9 billion cut in overall state spending. Tax receipts have plummeted in the past six months as unemployment numbers worsen. What long-term impact the recession may have remains to be seen.

House Budget Includes 3% COLA

No Change to Retiree Health Insurance

APRIL 15, 2009: The House Committee on Ways and Means has filed a Fiscal Year 2010 budget proposal that contains a full 3% cost-of-living adjustment for retired state employees and teachers. Support for the COLA, which is scheduled to be paid in July, comes despite a looming $4 billion deficit for FY10.

House budget writers, led by Chairman Charles Murphy (D-Burlington), have proposed an increase in the health insurance contributions paid by active stare employees. Under the House proposal, active state workers would contribute 30% toward their insurance premiums. However, state retirees are held harmless, as our any municipal retirees/employees entering the GIC through coalition bargaining.


Retirees Not Impacted By Changes

APRIL 13, 2009: Legislative leaders are quickly advancing legislation that will redefine some aspects of the Massachusetts defined benefit pension plan. Know as “pension reform”, this legislative action follows several year’s worth of media expose’ that allege pension abuse by a small number of individuals “gaming” the system.

While the proposed changes do not impact the pension benefits of any current retirees, some changes may impact current public employees. The Senate passed its version (S2026) of a pension reform bill on March 31 and the House is expected to debate a similar bill (H4054) on Tuesday, April 14.


APRIL 11, 2009: The state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC) is now holding its annual open enrollment period, during which retirees and employees are allowed to make changes in their insurance coverage (effective July 1, 2009). With nearly 300,000 state and local retirees and employees now insured under the state plan, a large portion of Association members are impacted.

During open enrollment, which runs from April 13 to May 15, 2009, the GIC will hold 18 health fairs across the state. The health fairs, attended by GIC and insurance company officials, provide an excellent opportunity for members seeking additional information about their insurance coverage to speak directly with the people responsible.


MARCH 28, 2009: Vice President Joseph Biden announced Friday that federal stimulus payments to Social Security recipients will take place in May. The one-time $250 payment, included within the $825 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will be made in a separate check and is payable to all retirees who receive Social Security benefits.

Public retirees, who do not receive a Social Security benefit, will receive a $250 tax rebate paid by the IRS. Unfortunately, non Social Security retirees must wait until they file their 2009 taxes (filed in 2010) in order to receive the stimulus payment.


Spellane & McGee Chair Public Service

MARCH 20, 2009: As state leaders ramp up efforts to close a growing deficit for the current FY09 fiscal year, House and Senate budget writers work to assemble the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, while Legislative committees begin their work on the thousands of pending bills.

With monthly revenue collections continuing to fall lower than anticipated, current estimates set the remaining deficit at $500 million, with the potential to grow to $1 billion by the end of June. Roughly $2.5 billion has already been cut from the FY09 budget, which began last July. New House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Murphy (D-Burlington) is working closely with his Senate counterpart, Senator Steven Panagiotakos (D-Lowell) to craft the FY2010 budget with an anticipated budget shortfall surpassing $4 billion.


Dear Members of the State Retirement System: You will shortly receive a ballot for a very important election at the State Retirement Board.

Theresa McGoldrick, who sits along with Ralph White as one of the two elected members on the State Retirement Board, is running for reelection for a new three-year term. Because elections are staggered, Theresa’s is the only election this year.


OME Plan Costs Drop

MARCH 7, 2009: Officials with the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC) have announced the insurance rates for FY10, which begins on July 1. The average increase across all GIC sponsored plans is 3.1%, with an actual price reduction for the Optional Medicare Extension (OME) plan.

While insurance costs have risen across the Commonwealth and country between 5-6% on average, the GIC has once again managed to come in with significantly lower increases. This is good news for the 325,000 state retirees and employees, retired teachers, and retired and active local employees now enrolled in the state insurance plans.


MA Delegation Cosponsors Bills

FEBRUARY 27, 2008: Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has reintroduced her bill to repeal the dreaded Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO). The bill, S484, has ten initial cosponsors and is now before the Senate Finance Committee.

John Kerry (D-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Bill Nelson (D-FL) are among the more notable Senators, from key retiree states, sponsoring the bill. Kerry remains chairman of the Subcommittee on Social Security, and is now the 5th ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, which now holds S484 under review.


Worse Than Blizzard of ‘78

In the annals of Central Massachusetts, the ice storm of this past December 11-12 is rated as worse than the Blizzard of ’78 in severity and hardship for many members.

With little warning, other than expected freezing rain on the eve of December 11, members were awakened during the night by a widespread power outage and the sound of trees snapping. When dawn arrived it appeared that he world had returned to a veritable Ice Age. And winter was still 10 days away.