On their way out the door over the past decade, Nebraska State Patrol retirees boosted their average pension payouts by about $178 a month.
They did so with the blessing of their retirement plan and state law — mainly by cashing out a career's worth of comp time in their final year, thus boosting the final salary figure used to calculate their retirement benefits.
The state expects this "spiking" of retirement pay, as it's commonly described, to increase taxpayers' share of retirement costs by $13 million over the next 30 years. State Patrol employees, too, will pay their share of these costs in increased retirement contributions. And younger employees will pay these costs longer.
The fault lies not with individual retirees, who are simply following the rules, but with the rules themselves. The practice of including unused comp time pay in the calculation of monthly pension payments deserves a closer look.
The Retirement Systems Committee's Legislative Bill 467 makes good fiscal sense. It would remove comp time from the equation. It also would compute a trooper's final salary based on the final five years' service instead of the final three, minimizing the impact of a single, highly paid year.
To further shore up the pension fund, the bill would increase pension contributions and reduce benefits for new hires.
Many Nebraskans lost access to pensions years ago. Omaha police officers and firefighters curtailed spiking in recent years to help shore up their retirement funds. It's time for the State Patrol to do the same.
Lawmakers and Gov. Pete Ricketts also would do well to explore whether to reduce the amount of comp time troopers could carry over from year to year. State Patrol retirees can accumulate up to nine weeks of comp time. Most businesses require employees to use such time in a reasonable period or lose it.
A 2012 court ruling halted the use of vacation and sick leave in computing salary for the Patrol's pension purposes. Addressing the use of comp time in pension calculations is the next logical step.
It's in the best interests of State Patrol retirees and the stability of their pension fund to embrace solutions that preserve benefits for future generations.