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Stitt approves cost-of-living adjustment for state retirees

Drone image of Oklahoma state capitol building. Image by Dave Morris.
Drone image of Oklahoma state capitol building. Image by Dave Morris.

For the first time in 12 years, most state retirees will see a boost in their pension checks.

Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday signed legislation to grant a 2%-4% cost-of-living adjustment for many retired teachers, first responders and state employees.

Sterling Zearley, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, called the adjustments the right thing to do for retirees and local communities that will benefit from the increased spending power.

“Today is a great day for retired state employees and other public retirees as Gov. Stitt signed House Bill 3350 to provide a much-needed raise in their pensions," he said. "The increase will help these retirees with their living expenses which continue to rise."

State retirees who have been retired for more than five years as of July 1 will see a 4% increase in their pensions. Those who have been retired for between two and five years will see a 2% increase. Those retired for less than two years will not see any increase.

An estimated 113,000 retirees will see some increase in their pension checks.

“I am proud to support our first responders, teachers and state employees with this needed increase,” Stitt said in a statement.

Republican and Democrat legislators praised Stitt for signing the bill. Because legislators can only serve for 12 years, few if any current legislators were in office the last time a cost-of-living adjustment was granted.

HB 3350, by Rep. Avery Frix, R-Muskogee, and Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, overwhelmingly passed the Senate last week. The measure passed the House unanimously earlier this session.

Frix, who has lobbied for years for this increase, said seeing the bill become law is immensely gratifying.

"It has been 12 years since these former state employees received a COLA, even as they’ve seen the cost of health insurance premiums and other living expenses rise," he said. "Today, these dedicated public servants receive some relief.”

The adjustment are expected to have a $767 million lifetime impact on the state's pension systems. The state has seven pension systems.

Sgt. Mark Nelson, vice president of the Oklahoma State Fraternal Order of Police, praised the governor for signing the bill.

“This long-overdue increase demonstrates Oklahomans and their elected officials truly support Oklahoma’s civil servants," he said in a statement.

The cost-of-living adjustment applies to members of the Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System; Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System; Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges; Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma; and the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System.

Retired Oklahoma teacher Susan Raasch said the pension boost will bring much-needed relief.

“Retired educators across Oklahoma have been struggling for years," she said. "Not having a COLA has stagnated our pension benefits as the cost of life’s essentials has increased each and every year."

Legislators purposefully put off giving a cost-of-living adjustment since 2008 to improve the health of the state's pension systems, which at one time were among the worst in the nation.

Carmen Forman

Carmen Forman covers the state Capitol and governor's office for The Oklahoman. A Norman native and graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she previously covered state politics in Virginia and Arizona before returning to Oklahoma. Read more ›

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