Cutting retiree medical benefits for state employees will hurt hiring and retention
In addition to the numerous cuts already proposed in the Senate budget, lawmakers are attempting to eliminate retiree health benefits for state employees-- the only thing keeping them in the public sector.
North Carolina’s public employees often are lured to the private sector by better pay and benefits, which isn’t surprising given the relatively modest compensation they receive from the state. But for decades, many state workers have kept going because of job security and one benefit in particular: the fully subsidized health care coverage they can get in retirement.
Now, the state Senate is looking, in a rather secretive way through a provision deep in its budget, to end that health care insurance benefit for those hired by the state after Jan. 1, 2016. Current employees wouldn’t be affected. But don’t think of that as some kind of generosity on the part of Republican senators pushing this idea. If benefits of those under the current plan were ended, legal challenges would ensue.
Chuck Stone, the lobbyist, claims that the state already is “having trouble recruiting and retaining career level state employees” because of stagnant wages and other cuts. That’s true, and state employees also have felt a lack of respect from top leaders. These factors undoubtedly have led some to seek other employment.
But as one SEANC lobbyist said, the state still can point to that subsidized health care coverage for retired employees as a major perk they are unlikely to get anywhere else. It’s a draw. It’s an attractive long-term security benefit. It is something that can keep people in a job, and in a productive way, for most of a career.
As House and Senate negotiators hammer out a final budget, we must hope that cooler heads prevail and that lawmakers who have doubts about targeting an important benefit for state workers will speak up and stop this movement. It smacks of political payback by Republicans who haven’t liked the criticism they’ve occasionally gotten from SEANC and some members. The problem with such payback is that taking away this benefit will hurt state government from top to bottom – and will thus hurt the people government is supposed to serve and often serves well.