JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Joint Committee on Public Employment Retirement met Wednesday under two unusual circumstances. The committee did not reach a quorum, and an extra officer patrolled outside House Hearing Room 4, representing heightened security from Capitol Police.
Yesterday, Rep. Mike Leara, the committee chair, asked for increased security after Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, received a death threat on his office voicemail.
Leara said the move was more about making sure the enhanced media presence at a usually quiet committee did not bring out anyone seeking… well, enhanced media presence.
“We had no threats called in, no indication that there would be,” Leara said. “With Capitol police we just wanted them to be aware that we were having a hearing today, the day after a lot of media attention for Sen. Schaefer. There’s a lot of people who like to get media attention, so we just wanted to be sure capitol police were aware we were having a hearing the day after an incident.”
The committee meeting itself went along as normally scheduled, but without a quorum, no actionable items on the agenda could be accomplished. Instead, it acted as more of a check-up on struggling or at risk pension programs across the state instead of full-fledged surgery.
“This committee is a statutory committee… and its primary focus is an oversight of public pension systems,” Leara said. “It’s just to ensure the public there is some oversight. The committee has an obligation of producing a watch list, a delinquent list, and the criteria by which it is required to get on one of those two lists.”
Currently quite a few pension programs are on the watch list in cities from Hannibal to Columbia to Springfield as well as municipalities surrounding St. Louis. The watch list simply means the given plan may need more oversight to ensure the employers meet the annual required contribution of the pension fund.
The delinquent list is a list of plans that no longer get state tax payments until they are out of delinquency. Leara says the economic downturn during the Great Recession forced states and state employers to refocus on pension plans since the economic shift affected the cost of pensions and other retirement plans.
“Really, catastrophic events in the markets have called attention to pension plans across the country,” he said. “This committee has had a little bit more importance in the past few years with the decline in the market in 2008 and late 2007 actually.
“I think if there was no oversight, then a lot of these plans wouldn’t pay attention. We’ve seen problems with some pension plans not meeting their obligations and it’s come back to bite them and I think things have run smoother in the state in the past five or ten years.”