My Turn: Legislature attacks towns, counties and retirees

For the Monitor
Friday, January 12, 2018

House Bill 561 as amended in the Senate is a misguided attempt to increase union membership, increase municipal and county budgets and punish retirees for having worked for state or local government.

The bill as amended reduces the allowable hours a retiree may work for any New Hampshire Retirement System member. The reduction in availability causes the towns and counties to seek other, often unavailable, workers to perform necessary and sometimes legally contracted obligations.

Three of the counties I represent are on the hook for millions of dollars to replace prison transport details. The state Department of Corrections is strained by forced current overtime with the only relief provided by retired guards.

Many sheriff’s departments contract with the federal government to transport federal prisoners. This work requires sworn officers. The work schedule is erratic so it is particularly suited to employment of retired officers. Fire department retirees are similarly disadvantaged when work in their specialty areas is not in need of full-time employees. Teachers and other workers are all treated as if they are robbing the retirement system by relieving the local employers from hiring new employees.

Who would want to cause the local and county governments to hire more expensive full-time employees when there are already trained people to do the work?

The unions are the driving force behind forcing the employers to be barred from saving the taxpayers payroll money. While this practice saves the local employers payroll dollars not having to support higher pay and benefits, it reduces the union’s membership and membership equals dues money to the union treasuries. “Double-dippers” is the epithet used to refer to retired persons who wish to work in retirement.

When hired, these retired employees were not told that a condition of employment would be a permanent ban on future work hours following retirement.

Actuaries for the retirement system told the retirement commission the bar to employment of retirees will make no improvement to the bankrupt condition of the current 5 billion dollar shortfall. If anything the system may improve by not adding new members.

The passage of HB 561 as amended by the Senate will force an increase in local spending or a decrease in local services. The imposition of these restrictions on management of local government will violate the state constitution prohibiting the state from imposing costs on local governments. The strangulation of local government managers will raise property taxes when less expensive workers are readily available in the retiree pool.

HB 561 as amended is bad policy for retirees, the state and local employers. It will increase property taxes or reduce services across the state. It violates the implied agreement made with employees at the time of hiring and does nothing to improve the disastrous condition of the system.

The public employee unions are the only beneficiaries. I will continue to oppose the unfunded mandate as my pledge to my constituents to fight taxes. Tell your senators to oppose HB 561 and help control your property tax bill.

(Sen. John Reagan represents Deerfield and 10 other towns in three counties.)