Bill would phase out pensions for public employees in state. Now that Boeing Machinists have given up their pensions, some state lawmakers are renewing calls for the state to end pensions for public employees and replace them with 401(k)-style retirement plans.

The top Republican leaders in the state Senate and House on Thursday (Jan. 9) told reporters they’re going after your pensions.

“Can we continue to afford that?” Senate Republican Leader Sen. Mark Schoesler of the 9th District told the annual Associated Press gathering of Capitol reporters in Olympia.

“Do we need to go to pure defined contribution? Do we need to go to Plan 3? I think these are good discussions. We don’t want to end up like Illinois is.”

House Republican Leader Rep. Dan Kristiansen of the 39th Dist. said “it is a huge, huge problem.”

He used words like “bankrupt” to say the sky is falling on our pensions.

But, as we’ve said time and again, they’re using Boeing, Illinois, Detroit and other episodes to urge vindictive changes to your pensions that have no basis in fiscal responsibility or necessity.

Speaker of the House Rep. Frank Chopp of the 43rd Dist. said just that in responding to Schoesler and Kristiansen.

“Well unfortunately, Dan, that’s not accurate,” Chopp shot back.

“We’ve put hundreds of millions in our state budget…to make sure that our pension system was adequately funded.

“We’re not like Illinois or some of those other states. We’ve been responsible over the years.”

We aren’t Illinois – in fact The PEW Center on the States’ “The Widening Gap Update” shows that Washington has one of the four healthiest pensions systems in the nation. Illinois – one of the four worst. We’re far from being an Illinois.

And Chopp said the attack on middle class public employee pensions is just plain mean.

“I would urge you to keep in mind who these pensions are for,” Chopp said. “They’re for people like police officers and firefighters and teachers who in many cases put their lives on the line for us….

“We did make a promise to those folks if they invest their time and life in protecting the public, then we’re going to have a pension for them to supplement their retirement.

“That’s a fair deal for the average public servant.”

And we’re not talking golden parachutes here.

According to the State Actuary, the average monthly benefit for a PERS 2 retiree is about $1,158 a month, or less than $14,000 a year.

And according to the Economic Opportunity Institute, Washington’s state and local pensions generated $4.5 billion in economic output in our state – supporting close to 31,000 jobs and creating almost $600 million in tax revenues. Each dollar invested by the Legislature in pensions supported over $8 in economic activity in our state.

In terms of the bankruptcy scare, that too falls way off the mark. Washington is a leader in pension reform. And according to the State Treasurer, our State Investment Board leads the pack in investment returns and our open pension plans are funded at 111 percent as of 2012.

We realize those who want to do away with your pensions have a narrative they’re following, but it’s based on apples-oranges comparisons not backed by the facts.