No pension dividend riles state retiree - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

No pension dividend riles state retiree

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Posted: Thursday, June 29, 2006 5:55 am | Updated: 3:22 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

In the movie “Christmas Vacation,’’ Clark Griswold assembles his extended family in the living room after the courier arrives with his Christmas bonus from his employer.

As he opens the envelope, he finds instead of a bonus check a gift certificate for a “jelly of the month.’’

“Clark, it’s the gift that keeps on givin’ the whole year through,’’ observes Clark’s backward cousin, Eddie.

And, of course, Clark goes bonkers.

Now, I wasn’t there when Phyllis Martin learned this week that there would be no raise in this year’s pension income from the Arizona State Retirement System.

But having talked with Martin on Wednesday, I suspect her reaction was much the same as Griswold’s.

“I’m flipping,’’ said the 70-year-old Gilbert resident, who is one of 76,000 state employees covered by the state’s pension.

And it’s easy to understand why. For the past 12 years, retirees under the plan have gotten dividend checks each year ranging from $160 to $708 for an average retiree with 20 years of service.

But because of poor market performance from 2000 to 2002, the fund that used to pay those dividends has dried up. And since dividend surpluses are distributed based on a 10-year average, those retirees may not be getting a check in five years or more.

And that, says Martin — a retired tax collector — just isn’t right.

“The police and fire department retirees are getting raises,’’ she said. “What are we, orphans?’’

Indeed, public safety retirees will get dividends because they have a different pension plan. Still, Martin says, the idea of no raises in the pension is unfair. She is particularly incensed because she feels she wasn’t properly notified.

“They said they mailed a letter in May, but I never saw it and I talked to five other retirees and they never got a letter, either,’’ she said.

But Pat Klein, the assistant director of external affairs for the retirement system, disputes that.

“We informed our retirees as early as last year when we made the disbursement,’’ he said.

Martin said if she had known about the situation, she would have organized a march on the Capitol.

“Why don’t they give us our money from the general fund surplus?” she said. “We tax collectors were the ones busting our (tail) to collect the money in the first place.’’

Klein disputes the idea that retirees are somehow entitled to an annual dividend check.

“It’s not a cost of living payment,’’ he said. “It was never guaranteed. In the past, we’ve been very fortunate to have done well enough with the investments to make the payments and we hope to be in that position again, but right now, the money isn’t there.’’

That’s no consolation to Martin, though.

“It’s a disgrace,’’ she said.

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