Retired teachers lobby for retirement funds

Michelle Seeber

New Mexico lawmakers on Monday told retired educators they’ll have to fix their retirement fund themselves.
The fund is $2.3 billion short of what actuarial studies projected it would grow to over the last three years, with assets totaling $6.1 billion instead of $9.3 billion, according to information provided at the forum, which was held at Clovis’ Holiday Inn.
Sen. Clinton D. Harden, R-Clovis, and State Reps. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, and Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, all said not to expect funding from the Legislature.
“Don’t expect to get the money,” said Crook, who serves on two legislative tax committees — Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy and Taxation of Revenue. “The money you are asking for is the total of my Capital Outlay Fund.”
“This is an election year,” Crook said. “I do not think we’ll pass any tax increases (that can fix this). Nothing can be handed out for totally free anymore.”
The legislators provided ideas, such as raising the amount of money teachers contribute to the fund.
Delmond Shirley, president of the state’s Educational Retirement Board, said to raise the fund’s assets to its projected level teachers would have to increase contributions from their earnings by as much as 13 percent.
He recommended increasing contributions in smaller increments, which, after a few years, would bring the fund into better standing.
Ingle recommended retirees meet with a legislative committee to draft a contribution plan that could be implemented statewide.
This brought into the discussion other issues, such as bigger teachers’ salaries and early retirement drawing from the fund.
Marge Lancaster, president of the New Mexico Association of Educational Retirees and emcee of the forum, told the legislators their candor was appreciated.
“We want to know the truth — what we can depend on,” Lancaster said. “Give it to us like it is, and we’ll deal with it. Teachers want legislators to be diligent with the fund. We need a little more in that escrow fund, and we can take care of that.”