Raw Deal for State Employees, Teachers and Retirees
The Senate passed revisions to the State Health Plan last Thursday in a partisan vote; all 31 Republicans voting in favor of the Plan revisions and 17 Democrats, including myself, voting against the Plan revisions. The State Health Plan is facing a $515 million dollar shortfall.
I believe the Plan changes are a bad deal overall for state employees, teachers and retirees. Here’s why:
For the first time, teachers, state highway patrol officers, child protection workers, mental health nurses and all other state employees will be required to pay premiums on their health insurance. These employees have not received a cost of living adjustment during the past three years due to the budgetary crisis and the Plan revisions are tantamount to a significant pay cut.
The Governor’s budget proposal included an option for public employees to pay premiums to maintain their current 80/20 benefit plan or to choose a premium-free 70/30 package. The Governor’s option was ignored in the proposal advanced by the new Republican majority.
Retirees will have to pay a premium for the first time in history if they choose the 80/20 plan. Because older employees utilize healthcare more than younger employees, the option of paying higher co-payments under a 70/30 plan to avoid premium payments will be an illusory choice. I share the view of my Democratic colleagues who spoke on the Senate floor that charging retirees a premium on a retirement benefit they have earned may be illegal.
The new majority addressed the $515 million dollar shortfall for the next two years by: Teachers, state employees, and retirees paying $374.11 million dollars or 72.6 percent of this shortfall through increased premiums, co-payments and deductibles. In the first year, current and retired employees will pay approximately $190 million dollars while the State will only pay $10 million. The allocation of the shortfall is simply unfair.
In exchange for these increased financial burdens on teachers, state employees and retirees, the new majority has agreed to put the State Health Plan under the jurisdiction of the State Treasurer. Advocates for this change argue that there has been an improper relationship between legislative leaders and Blue Cross Blue Shield. They believe that moving control of the plan will permit the General Assembly to aggressively monitor the relationship between BCBS and the State Treasurer.
There is ample evidence that the current contract with BCBS to manage our tax dollars (our plan is self-funded as we do not pay premiums to BCBS) was poorly negotiated by legislative leaders, allowing for BCBS to assess costs above and beyond the administrative fee agreed upon to handle each claim and limiting the ability for public officials to review independent audits of the plan. I support moving the Plan away from the General Assembly to restore public confidence in the Plan, but I believe it should be moved under the direct supervision of the Governor.
The Treasurer has no power to increase the amount of money the State puts in the Plan, therefore I believe that it is more likely that future employees and retirees will absorb all cost increases in the Plan’s premiums, deductibles and co-payments. If the Plan is moved under the control of the Governor, who submits proposed budgets as required by law to the General Assembly, I believe the prospect for a more reasonable balance will be reached in the distribution of premium increases between the State, employees and retirees in the future. I also am concerned that transferring the Plan to the Treasurer will reduce that office’s effectiveness in monitoring and working with the General Assembly to maintain appropriate funding levels to maintain the financial integrity of the State Retirement System that the Treasurer supervises.
Gov. Holden’s Pardon
The vote to pardon Gov. William W. Holden is on hold. The resolution has been relegated to the Senate Rules Committee after an anonymous person distributed literature charging that Holden was a “bitter, unscrupulous and arrogant demagogue.” Senate Republicans hesitated in completing what should have been a bipartisan, unanimous vote by the General Assembly. The fate of the bill is in doubt.
Gov. Holden, a Republican, was impeached in 1871 by a Democratic-majority General Assembly, the first governor in U.S. history to be removed from office. He was unpopular for confronting the Ku Klux Klan’s reign of terror in parts of the State, deploying the militia to Caswell and Alamance counties after a series of hangings and beatings.
Pardoning Gov. Holden will not change a single historical event; it is entirely a symbolic act. Yet, a pardon is an important statement by our generation of North Carolinians, a statement of continued dedication to eradicate the malignant consequences of slavery and segregation in our State.
The vote to pardon Gov. Holden should be unanimous. The resolution of pardon was sponsored by two Democratic Senators, Dan Blue of Wake County and me, and by Republican Senator, Neal Hunt of Wake County. Three living past Governors of North Carolina (Democrat James B. Hunt and Republicans James G. Martin and Jim Holshouser) delivered a compelling joint letter to the Senate supporting the pardon. Editorial writers across the state have added the support of their newspapers.
Republican leaders, instead of addressing the issues surrounding a pardon directly, are hedging when being questioned about the bill. “It’s unclear what grooming procedure we’ll do on this particular bill,” said Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apadaca.
One inescapable fact remains: The North Carolina State Senate that removed Gov. Holden from office will be the same State Senate that votes this generation’s stamp of judgment on that event. We will either pardon Gov. Holden, thereby publicly affirming this generation’s commitment to an inclusive society dedicated to the rights of all of its citizens, or the resolution will die a sullen death without a vote by the Senate, leaving many citizens to wonder if our State is mired in and incapable of throwing off the remaining legacies of slavery and segregation.
Blood Tests in Cases of Death by Vehicle
Senate Bill 16, which gives law enforcement one more tool for determining the level of criminal culpability in death by vehicle cases, was passed by the Senate in a 49-0 vote on Tuesday. I sponsored the bill along with Republican Sen. Don East, a retired law enforcement officer from Pilot Mountain.
The legislation requires law enforcement officers to request blood tests in cases where a death has occurred during the course of an automobile accident where the operator is arrested or charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle. If the driver responsible for the death chose to refuse the test, they will lose their license for a year. In cases where a breathalyzer determines the driver has an alcohol level above the legal limit, the blood test will be will be waived.
Prospects for passage of the bill in the State House appear excellent.
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As always I welcome your comments on this newsletter or anything else that concerns you. My office is here to help in whatever manner we can. It is an honor to serve as your Senator, and I will do everything in my power to live up to that honor.