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Treasurer, lawmakers seek constitutional amendment on pensions

Austin Jenkins
A bipartisan group of Washington lawmakers proposes a constitutional amendment to require pension payments.

Washington's pension system is underfunded to the tune of nearly $7 billion. Now the State Treasurer and a bipartisan group of lawmakers say the time has come to force the legislature to pay the pension bill.

Lawmakers have shortchanged payments to the state pension system on-and-off for the past three decades. State Treasurer Jim McIntire and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle want to make it impossible to continue to give into that temptation.

The proposal

Their idea is to amend the state constitution to require that lawmakers pay at least 80 percent of the annual pension bill.

Republican State Senator Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville) warns if Washington doesn't act it could lose its good bond rating:

"A pension is a contractual liability. If we don't make those pension payments the State Treasurer gets a call from Wall Street and it's not pretty."

Another worst case scenario? Washington could end up paying pensioners out of the state budget instead of the state retirement fund.

Amending Washington's constitution is no small task. It requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature and approval by the voters.

The constitutional amendment would also create a payment plan to pay-off the current unfunded liability in the pension system.

It would also have major implications for cash-strapped local governments. They too would have to fund pensions at 80 percent of recommended levels.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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