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Council places pension charter amendment on ballot despite unanimous opposition to it

Jay Hanselman

Cincinnati voters will decide in November if theywant to amend the charter to make changes to the city's troubled pension system.  Those could include finding a way to fully fund the current plan in ten years and requiring new employees to be in 401K style plans similar to those offered by many private employers.  

Council voted Tuesday to place the issue on the ballot, even though all nine members are opposed to it.  But the law gives them no choice in the decision.

“This proposed amendment which purports to be about pension reform is really nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Qualls said.  “That ultimately will punish retirees, punish employees and also threaten the overall system.  It does not solve the problem.”

Council Member Christopher Smitherman is opposed to the charter change.  But he said there needs to be solutions to the pension problem.

“To define the citizens who’ve gone out and collected these signatures as a wolf, and not define ourselves as a wolf, is absolutely undermining the democratic process in my opinion,” Smitherman said.  “So even me disagreeing with what’s going on the ballot, I don’t think anyone here has any room to grandstand that they’ve done their job.”

Retirement system director Paula Tilsley said there's a question of whether the Internal Revenue Service will consider the plans "qualified" for tax purposes.

“The impact of that is that if a plan is no longer qualified, all the monies currently sitting in the plans become taxable to the employee at that time,” Tilsley said.  “Not at retirement, but when the plan loses its tax qualified status.”

The union’s representing city employees are opposed to the charter amendment.  Doug Sizemore is with the AFL/CIO.

“The group collecting signatures to put this on the ballot dropped nearly $70,000 into Cincinnati to gather those signatures, yet the local supporters of this measure are not willing to say where this funding is coming from,” Sizemore said.  “We know this is being back by out of state, out of touch corporate interests, who want to destroy Cincinnati’s retirement system.  They do not care about the well-being of our workers or retirees.”

No supporters of the charter amendment spoke during a Council committee meeting to place it on the ballot.

Right now the city's pension system is only 61 percent funded.  Without changes or a substantial influx of cash, it won't be able to pay retirees their benefits sometime in the distant future.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.