Changing retirement age, moving to 401(k): Firefighters, public - - Columbia, South Carolina

Changing retirement age, moving to 401(k): Firefighters, public employees fight suggestions for pension fix

(Source: WISTV) (Source: WISTV)

South Carolina's unfunded liability in retirement to state employees is estimated at some $20 billion; that's money the state does not have.

For more than one year now, a committee of lawmakers has been working on a plan to right the system and keep the debt from growing. Now, Governor Henry McMaster is offering some ideas for fixes. However, public employees like firefighters aren't on board with all of his suggestions.  

McMaster wrote to the panel of lawmakers trying to fix the problem, to consider converting South Carolina's pension plan to a 401(k) style plan, along with suggestion like raising the retirement eligibility age.  

"We all need to understand every action is going to have a reaction,” Lugoff Fire-Rescue Chief Dennis Ray says.  

Chief Ray stands against replacing the state’s pension plan promise with a 401(k) process like many private sector employees have. He says the salaries of public employees simply are too low for that to ever secure them in retirement, and that uncertainty on what’s to come has people second-guessing a career in fire service.

"It is very disheartening to hear that there are people working in our business, public safety - that’s fire, law enforcement, EMS, you can put Department of Corrections in there - who’s hurting tremendously. You can put EMS in there. It is sad to hear people in our line of work telling their family members, telling their friends, ‘Don’t even go into government service,'" Ray says.  

McMaster says the pension system in place now has just become too costly for the state.  

But those like Ray, and Carlton Washington with the SC State Employees Association suggest finding a new source of revenue to put toward the pension, like a tax or fee. 

“I mean, we’re on the verge of putting state government in crisis mode. Not doing right by employees, but more importantly, it’s the citizens of South Carolina that will be affected by the actions that we take," Washington says. 

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