Retirement is the end goal of every professional person. Most of us work to live, not live to work, and retirement represents the reward for a long, fruitful career and a job well done. It is a time of life when we can spend more time with our families and grandkids, indulge in hobbies and travel. Retirement used to be synonymous with safety and security, relaxation and comfort.
But with the continued attacks on our seniors by the Republican-led Legislature, retirement has become more and more of a tense and tenuous existence. Over the last two years, Republicans have been waging a war against our seniors, making them the scapegoats for all of our state's financial challenges.
The latest assault came hidden in a Trojan horse of reform as Senate Republicans moved Senate Bill 1040, legislation that permanently damages the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS). The bill raises retirement costs on current retirees and doubles their health care costs, while also making drastic changes to the system that undermine the retirement plans of current employees. The plan also moves any school employees hired after January 2013 to a 401(k) plan instead of the hybrid defined benefits/defined contribution plan current employees receive, a move that the state Office of Retirement Services estimates could cost the state an additional $2 billion to $3 billion over the next two decades.
It is deplorable that legislators are preying on our current retirees and cutting their health care and retirement benefits, but what's even worse is that the so-called problems with MPSERS fall squarely on the shoulders of their Republican predecessors.
Republicans want to blame our teachers and our school workers for the issues with the current retirement system, but the real problems started 15 years ago when Gov. John Engler made severe changes to how the system was operated. MPSERS had previously been prefunded, but Gov. Engler decided to take the lid off the cookie jar and start stealing money from the fund to fill other budget holes. Now, former, current and future school employees are being unfairly punished for the mistakes and financial mismanagement of their benefits by the state.
Our school employees who worked hard, dedicated their lives to Michigan's children, played by the rules and planned their finances for retirement, are now asked to pay for the mistakes made by Republicans. This is on top of the tax hike Michigan retirees saw with the passage of Gov. Snyder's $1.8 billion tax break for big business. For the second year in a row, struggling seniors are burdened with paying for someone else.
There is no justification for taking any more money from Michigan's retirees, some of our most financially vulnerable citizens. Many make due with fixed and meager incomes, budgeting carefully to make ends meet, and any additional cost can break the bank. It is estimated that almost 65 percent of retirees in this plan receive $22,000 or less annually from their pension. Moreover, health care benefits are arguably their most vital and valuable asset as their medical needs increase with age. Our seniors in retirement, when they should be most secure and at peace, will now have to start paying more for benefits they've already earned.
I opposed this legislation in the Senate and offered several amendments to protect our retirees and lower-income workers, but they were all steamrolled by the Republican majority. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration, and I urge all of you to think of your parents and grandparents, of any retirees you know and what they've done for this state, and contact your representative and tell them to stop this attack on Michigan's seniors.
Sen. Glenn Anderson, D -Westland, represents the 6th District in Lansing.