Oklahoma State Capitol

The Legislature has approved cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for participants in various state pension funds, including those for firefighters, police, teachers and public employees. The bill was sent to Gov. Kevin Stitt on Friday. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World file

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Senate on Friday sent a cost of living adjustment bill to Gov. Kevin Stitt.

House Bill 3350 would provide a 2% increase to certain state retirees who have been retired two to five years and a 4% increase for those retired for at least five years or more.

Those who have been retired for less than two years receive no increase under the measure. The measure passed by a vote of 41-5.

It 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.

“I came here to be fiscally responsible,” said Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville. “I do not believe a vote for a COLA is fiscally responsible based on the health of these funds and a COLA should not be funded out of these funds.”

Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, debated in favor of the bill, saying those affected need to be able to live out their lives with dignity, an ability to pay their bills and not have to ask their children for money.

Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, debated against the bill, saying the state is moving down a destructive path and giving away COLAs in an election year, like previous Legislatures. He said the state is facing a $1.36 billion shortfall.

State retirees have not had a COLA since 2008, but received a one-time stipend two years ago.

“Law enforcement retirees have waited more than 12 years for a small increase in the pensions they earned and it’s fitting for the Legislature to approve this needed measure during national Police Week,” said Sgt. Mark Nelson, vice president of the Oklahoma State Fraternal Order of Police.

It was not immediately clear if Stitt would sign the measure. The governor has been critical of a legislative decision to reduce the amount of additional funds sent to shore up the pension funds. He accused lawmakers of raiding the funds. Lawmakers said they did not raid the funds but merely reduced the additional dollars being allocated to the funds during an economic downturn to put more money into education.

In other action, the Senate put a measure on the November ballot asking voters to reduce the percentage of tobacco settlement funds to 25% from 75% going to the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. Earnings are used to fund health programs.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Kim David, R-Porter, said the reduction would allow lawmakers to draw down additional dollars for the state’s Medicaid program.

David said TSET’s endowment is more than $1.3 billion.

The measure passed by a vote of 34-11.

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Barbara Hoberock



Twitter: @bhoberock

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