CONCORD – The New Hampshire Supreme Court heard oral arguments the morning of Thursday, May 15th in regards to the New Hampshire Retirement Security Coalition (NHRSC) lawsuit challenging so-called “pension reforms” passed by the Legislature in 2011 (Professional Firefighters of NH, et al vs. State of N.H.).
In response to litigation following the disastrous legislation passed in 2011, a Superior Court judge ruled that the increase was unconstitutional for workers who had ‘vested’ in the pension fund. Attorney Andru Volinsky, lead counsel for the NHRSC, argued Thursday to the Supreme Court that public employees ‘vest’ in the New Hampshire Retirement System immediately after accepting the job, not after 10 years (which some have claimed is precedent).
Volinsky asked the justices to think of the pension benefit as an annuity, agreed upon as part of the terms of employment, and something that cannot be changed unilaterally. The fact that pension annuities are considered not to ‘vest’ for ten years would seem to undermine the growing necessity to attract skilled young people to government work in this state, especially when the pension fund participation is mandatory. The current approach adopted by the 2011 Legislature will scare off, not attract young people to government service.
“When a police officer responds to a potentially life-threatening situation, as we see happen all too often, he or she goes in with 100% commitment to protecting the public interest. The deal is made on day one – that’s the job, that’s the commitment”, said Keith Phelps, President of the New Hampshire Police Association (NHPA).
“What’s to stop them [the Legislature] from raising the price to 25% or higher in the years ahead if the Court allows this broken promise to stand?” said Laura Hainey, President of the American Federation of Teachers – NH.
At stake for the approximately 48,000 public employees in the pension system is $75 million per year in higher costs. Diana Lacey, President of the largest state employees’ union SEA/SEIU commented, “It’s been almost three years. They’ve charged us almost $225 million more than they were supposed to for our annuities. We don’t have the right to strike when they take from us. If the Courts let this stand, to what end will legislators be able to steal from taxpayers? That’s what we are and we’re being targeted unfairly.”
For more information on the New Hampshire Retirement Security Coalition, please visit nhretirementfacts.com and follow us @NH_RSC