House takes up OPEB reform package

retirementIn an effort to address the more than $11 billion in unfunded accrued OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) liabilities for local governments across Michigan, the House is reviewing a package of bills aimed at changing the insurance benefits for government retirees. The 13-bill package, put forth by Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Isabella), creates the Local Government Retirement Act and amends all the relevant statutes to require compliance with the main bill, House Bill 6074.

Of Michigan’s 83 counties, 26 do not offer OPEB, while another six are currently at least 80 percent funded in the benefits, which would make them exempt from some of the requirements in the act. The remaining 51 counties have an accumulated unfunded liability of approximately $3 billion.

Breakdown of counties by OPEB commitments
(Updated 1/3/17 with corrected figures for Livingston County)

The six counties above the 80 percent mark — Barry, Cass, Clinton, Macomb, Oakland, Ottawa — would be exempt from the changes to current employee and current retiree OPEB benefits, regardless of whether or not the employees are currently vested in the benefit. These counties, however, would still be subject to the provisions for Medicare eligible retirees, Medicare supplemental policy contributions and for all new hires as detailed below.

The main provisions of the package include:

  • Requires an “unvested” retiree to contribute a minimum of 20 percent toward the cost for post-employment insurance and caps a local government’s contribution to a maximum of 80 percent.
  • Limits local governments’ contributions toward OPEB benefits for all new hires to a maximum of 2 percent of the employee’s base pay.
  • Requires all retirees to be on Medicare when eligible.
  • Caps local government contributions to Medicare supplemental policies to 80 percent of the cost of the policy.
  • Prohibits a local government, regardless of whether or not it meets the 80 percent funded threshold, from providing insurance benefits to retirees who are eligible to participate in a medical benefit plan or retirement health benefit plan offered or provided by an employer other than the local government.
  • Directs that “vested” employees will be exempt from changes in the act. To determine whether or not an employee is vested/exempt, the package states that if a collective bargaining agreement entered into before act’s adoption clearly and expressly confers a fixed, unalterable right to a vested retirement health benefit for an unambiguous duration, then the act does not impair that vested retirement health benefit for that duration.

After consulting with the Executive Committee of MAC’s Board of Directors and several county administrators, MAC took the position of “support in concept” and testified before the House Local Government Committee on that theme on Dec. 1. MAC noted in its testimony our appreciation for providing local governments with some assistance in tackling this looming obligation by taking this issue off of the bargaining table and for the state diverting legal challenges to the proposed law from the local governments that seek to amend the benefits for unvested employees and retirees.

MAC also conveyed concerns with the approach, including:

  • Many Michigan counties already have acted to change these benefits for current employees and for new hires. This should be recognized by the state.
  • Local control has been, and continues to be, a vital component of good governance, but the state needs to “untie the hands of the county so they have the tools necessary to address the issues.”
  • This approach focuses only on fixing local government budgetary issues by going after the costs associated with the employees that provide the public services we all rely upon. MAC would like to see the Legislature actually address the revenue side of the equation.

In addition to the concerns outlined above, MAC will be working with the Legislature on language changes and certain provisions that need to be addressed for specific counties. We anticipate additional hearings next week. For more information, contact Deena Bosworth at Bosworth@micounties.org