COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Senate fast-tracked legislation on Tuesday aimed at shoring up four of Ohio's five public pension funds, with both political parties supporting passage of the changes as early as next week.
The idea is not expected to move so quickly in the Ohio House, where leading Republicans say they are awaiting results of an independent study commissioned by the nonpartisan Ohio Retirement Study Council on the fiscal health of the retirement systems. The report is expected this summer.
Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus and Senate Democratic Leader Eric Kearney jointly announced the Senate's intentions Tuesday to move forward before the study is complete, saying after three years of deliberations it's time to move the pension bills.
"This is about protecting the retirement benefits of more than 1.7 million Ohioans," Niehaus said. "It's also about ensuring the fiscal integrity of our state government so we can continue to position Ohio for job growth and economic development."
Kearney, of Cincinnati, said overhauling pensions is not a partisan issue.
"My mother is a retired school teacher. Like many other retired Ohioans, she lives on a fixed income and depends on her retirement benefits to pay for groceries, utility bills and other necessities of life," he said. "These Ohioans are counting on us to make the necessary reforms to preserve their benefits."
Accounting and performance audits Ohio's five funds were required to conduct showed that, without adjustments to account for longer life spans, an influx of retirement-age baby boomers and economic challenges faced by government employers, the funds' long-term solvency over the next 30 years is at risk.
That jeopardizes the funds' ability to pay benefits to teachers, firefighters, police and other public workers.
The funds are losing varying amounts, up to $2 million a day, as they await legislative action allowing them to adjust premiums and payments for retirees and other recommended changes. Final figures will be based on revised benefits formulas, stiffer age and eligibility requirements, and new ways of calculating cost-of-living adjustments and final average salaries.
The bills introduced Tuesday involve four Ohio pension funds: the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund, the School Employees Retirement System, the State Teachers Retirement System, and the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System. The fifth retirement fund, the Highway Patrol Retirement System, hadn't completed work on its bill, Niehaus said.
Hearings began on the bills Tuesday, with testimony from fund executives. Ohio has some of the largest public pension funds in the nation.
House Speaker William Batchelder said Tuesday that he doesn't have any plans to take up pension reform legislation until lawmakers had the recommendations of the outside advisers.
"I think we ought to know what we're doing before we start," the Medina Republican told reporters.
He said his chamber introduced pension changes last January, but "we do have an ongoing study, and I don't know why we would act without reading it." He said the report should be done in two months tops.
Batchelder said he had not yet seen the Senate bills, which contain few changes from earlier versions. Batchelder said he would consider bringing the House back this summer to debate the legislation once the report is released.
Associated Press writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report.