Despite the tremendous amount of calls and contacts from our members to the Oklahoma House of Representatives, HB 2985—the COLA Bill was not heard on the House Floor and is now dead for the session. HB 1340—the STIPEND Bill did, however, pass by a 90-5 vote, and will head to the State Senate. The language in HB 1340 provides for a one-time stipend based upon the retiree’s annual benefit, at 2%. The Teacher Retirement System stipend benefit would be capped at $1,000. The average stipend benefit would be approximately $340. In addition, one would have to be retired 5 years or more to receive any benefit at all.
We are hoping to make some changes to the bill that might possibly lower the number of years of retirement to receive the stipend, and to also increase the benefit amount for those with pensions below the average. The principal Senate author of the bill is Greg Treat. Though disappointed with the outcome of the COLA bill, we will continue to work with the legislature to improve the stipend bill. In addition, we will continue to work towards a COLA bill next year. It will be important to ask folks campaigning for election or re-election this summer if they will support the Oklahoma Teacher Retirement System and work toward granting a cost of living adjustment for retirees. We are learning there are members of the legislature that are philosophically opposed to granting COLAs. Without a COLA, the rate of inflation can eat away at buying power. People who have served a career in public service deserve better!
Many of you may have questions about the teacher work action and the Together We Are Stronger campaign being led by the Oklahoma Education Association. The plan DOES include a COLA for retirees, as part of the long-range goal. The COLA however, is not included in the COST of the plan, because there are sufficient funds available to provide a benefit out of the teacher retirement system—not requiring any new revenue from the state budget. Our COLA message is being heard loud and strong in the halls at the Capitol. We were very close this year and simply could not get past leadership. Term limits, for better or worse, will change the make-up of the legislature next year, and the support we have garnered for the COLA is especially strong among the newer members. There are some bright, young leaders among them who are impressive and have shown their leadership by being willing to reach across the political divide and put the needs of their constituents above hard-line party politics. Finally, it appears that common sense is growing from the newer members upward. Your vote this election cycle will be as important as ever. Becoming involved in your community and starting conversations about your concerns of the state of affairs in Oklahoma is crucial. Help register non-voters. Attend meetings where candidates are speaking. Read up on the issues. Support pro-education and pro-retired issue candidates. Your vote matters.
We are about half-way through the legislative session, and as remaining bills make their way through the opposite chamber and various committees, we are keeping one bill that we have our red flag about is Senate Bill 1569. This bill appears to take money away from the dedicated revenues that include the funds dedicated to the Teacher Retirement System. We are leaning to OPPOSE this bill. It doesn’t create any new revenue to the state but REDUCES dedicated funds and gives the legislature more money to appropriate. What this state needs is NEW REVENUE.
WHAT CAN RETIREES DO TO SUPPORT THE TEACHER WORK ACTION? Certainly you are welcome to come to the Capitol beginning April 2nd. Bring your lawn chairs, weather permitting, and occupy the Capitol grounds, visit legislators, and be part of the group. Another important way to back educators is by supporting efforts in your community. Many churches and civic groups are currently working on plans to provide support to families and students. They are providing child care and meals in the event schools close. If you know of efforts in your community, please contact us at the OREA office and share the information. We would like to be able to provide information to others in a network of support.
As always, thanks for all that you do. Thank you for your membership, and thank you for your service to the youth of Oklahoma.
OREA Executive Director