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House to work on state pension overhaul

CONCORD — A state House committee has until just before the November elections to provide recommendations for an overhaul to the state employees pension plan.

House Speaker William O&#';Brien said the Special House Committee on Defined Contribution Retirement Plans for Public Employees will be asked to provide the House with details and procedures for moving from the defined-benefit plan state employees currently have to a defined-contribution plan for all new state employee hires.

&#';It&#';s just not something we can wait for,&#'; O&#';Brien said. &#';This is necessary to ensure we can have a state government that we can afford.&#';

The committee can ask for proposals and information from vendors, O&#';Brien said.

A defined-benefits plan provides employees a set amount at retirement based on salary and length of service. A defined-contribution plan sets an amount to be invested by employees and employers.

The committee&#';s formation comes on the heels of legislation adopted by the House in the spring to set up a defined-contribution plan that wasn&#';t adopted by the Senate.

The Senate referred the matter to a study commission in April after finding technical problems with the House bill, which would have set up a retirement plan similar to 401k plans for state employees. State employees are enrolled in the New Hampshire Retirement System, which has an unfunded liability of about $4 billion.

Diana Lacey, president of the State Employees Association Local 1984, questioned the committee&#';s formation, given that the NHRS estimated that converting the plan could creating a $1.2 billion unfunded actuarial accrued liability.

&#';Why is the speaker trying to push a solution that the Legislature has already said would cost New Hampshire taxpayers millions?&#'; said Lacey.

She also criticized the committee formation as redundant, given the Senate&#';s action and pension reforms that were adopted last year.

&#';This one&#';s been studied and studied and studied,&#'; she said.

O&#';Brien said he didn&#';t consider the House committee to be redundant and said the House has a duty to act independent of the Senate.

&#';We decided not to sit around for the next six months until the next session begins in January,&#'; he said. &#';We want to make sure that, when we draft legislation, that there are no questions left unanswered.&#';

The committee&#';s deadline is Nov. 1, five days before the election, which could see many House members, O&#';Brien included, no longer in office. No matter, O&#';Brien said.

&#';I certainly expect we&#';re going to have a Republican majority, a conservative majority, and that I will be speaker,&#'; he said. &#';But even if I am not speaker, this is work that needs to be done.&#';

He said he is asking for support from Democrats and noted the appointment of three &#';senior&#'; Democrats, Reps. Steven Shurtleff, David Campbell and Robert Foose, to the 11-member committee, which he said is &#';proportional&#'; to the overall political makeup of the House.

&#';This should not be just a partisan effort or from one leadership team,&#'; O&#';Brien said. &#';Whoever is in the majority (in 2013), we hope will bring it forward with bipartisan support.

&#';This is just a problem that needs to be solved,&#'; he said. &#';People ought to be encouraged that we&#';re not just sitting back and sweeping this under the rug while we try to get reelected.&#';

tbuckland@unionleader.com

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