Tuesday August 18, 2009
Manchin seeks compromise on retiree health care
Goal to have bill ready by Dec. 15
by Michelle Saxton
Daily Mail Capitol Reporter
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Joe Manchin is meeting with education leaders, unions and other groups to craft a bill addressing West Virginia's growing liability for subsidizing the health insurance premiums of public employees in retirement.
The goal is to have a bill ready by Dec. 15, Manchin said Monday after the first meeting of a working group studying the future costs of other post-employment benefits, also known as the OPEB debt.
But first members of the working group must agree on the facts and figures used to determine the debt, estimated by the Public Employees Insurance Agency at about $7 billion.
"This is a serious problem," Manchin said. "We have to understand the severity and the magnitude of it, but also we all have to be on the same page as far as the numbers."
National accounting standards require states, counties and municipalities to include OPEB liabilities in financial statements.
Many county schools systems in West Virginia are prepared to take legal action over who is responsible for the promised future benefits and how the debt is to be reported on those financial statements.
Meanwhile, teachers unions plan to sue over a decision by PEIA's finance board to stop subsidizing health insurance premiums in retirement for public employees hired after June 30, 2010.
Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said Monday that the union still planned to give 30 days notice of a lawsuit but also that she was pleased with the governor's meeting and believed he was sincere in trying to find a solution.
"It was a very good meeting, very good open dialogue, good questions," Hale said. "Hopefully we can get to the point where we can think of some possible solutions other than retirees having nothing to help them with their health care."
Monday's meeting served as more of an organizational gathering, Manchin said, but it also gave members a chance to raise questions they hope to answer soon.
"We're trying to make sure that we all understand the gravity of what we're doing, of what we have in our state, what's going to happen if we do nothing, how other states are handling it, so we look at comparisons," Manchin said. "Also we're monitoring the private sector, people that work for manufacturers or mining or small businesses, how they're coping with it."
The private sector represents a substantial taxpayer interest, West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts said.