"We are not going to be greeters at the Walmart!" retiree voices ring-out over state pension committee

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - There were fiery words from South Carolina retired public employees in fear for their pension.

"We are not going to be greeters at the Walmart!" retired teacher Rebecca Rochester said. Rochester represents the South Carolina Education Association.

She's one who doesn't want their hard work to go to waste, as lawmakers try to fix the state's pension system for public employees and get out of billions of dollars of debt.

"I think employees can feel safe that if they have been working for the state of South Carolina and have a pension, that it's sound. They're going to get the money that they're owed," committee co-chair Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D- Kershaw) says.

There were changes to the state's pension system in the Spring when a bill passed to make employees and the state taxpayer-funded agencies they work for pay more for benefits.

However, lawmakers say that's not enough to right the pension system about $21 billion in debt.

Some suggest doing away with the pension system for new hires, and instead enacting a 401(k) type plan. But Rochester says the state doesn't pay its employees enough for that to ever fund life after retirement.

"How are you going to be sure of what you're going to do? Are you going to have a life of dignity after you retire?" she questions.

Furthermore, she worries it's driving away new teachers.

"We enter the profession knowing that our peers working in the private sector will make higher wages, but we also know that we will have a retirement benefit for our life so we can live our retirement years with dignity," she says.

But Sen. Tom Davis (R- Beaufort) says no one has stood for the taxpayer during the pension hearings, and believes a 401(k) would be cheaper for the private-sector worker and taxpayer who inadvertently contributes to public workers' benefits.

"But new hires, new employees, we have to have them in a defined contribution plan or 401(k). If we don't do that we're going to be 10, 15 years from now asking the taxpayers of South Carolina for another $850 million bailouts and that just simply isn't good public policy," Davis says.

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