Letter: Closing the state pension plan will cost North Dakota more in the long run

Sen. Sean Cleary writes, "While our state’s pension liability needs to be addressed, closing the pension plan entirely would be short sighted."

Photo: Sean Cleary
Sean Cleary, a Bismarck-area Republican who is campaigning for the state Senate seat in District 35 in the 2022 election cycle.

There has been a push this legislative session to close the state’s main PERS pension plan for state employees and many local government workers. While our state’s pension liability needs to be addressed, closing the pension plan entirely would be short sighted.

Several bills seek to make the fund solvent but diverge on whether to preserve the defined-benefit public pension plan or transition to a defined-contribution plan for future employees.

The decision to close the retirement plan would be a bad deal for future public employees and an even worse deal for taxpayers. If the retirement plan closes, the state will be paying more money for employees to have a worse retirement plan.

Closing the pension plan is incredibly expensive. While all current workers and retirees should receive their benefits under law, if the plan continues to be underfunded, that could put that promise in jeopardy. The plan has been underfunded in the past, and there is no guarantee it will be adequately funded going forward. Closing the plan does not make the liability simply go away.

Instead of closing the state pension plan, we should sustainably fund it. The state did this a few years ago with the Teachers’ Fund for Retirement. The plan is now financially healthy and provides a good retirement benefit. We could do this for public employees, too. But instead of taking steps to fix the plan, there is a push to pay even more money to close it. It’s not fiscally responsible, and it will make the state government a less attractive employer.

I will continue to oppose the closure of the state’s pension plan, and I will work with my colleagues in the Legislature to address the issue in a way that’s financially sensible.


Sen. Sean Cleary, R-Bismarck, serves in the North Dakota Senate.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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