COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC/WIS) - Growing in debt by near billions each year, South Carolina's pension system is under the microscope as state lawmakers work to fix the problem.
In a meeting Tuesday, residents who could be impacted by the fixes: those who draw state retirement and those who will someday, including teachers, firefighters, police officers.
Wearing "Seniors Count" buttons, retired state employees stood before members of the General Assembly.
Rebecca Rochester represents the retired South Carolina Education Association.
"We are the ones in this nation who get out and vote," Rochester said. "The other thing about Seniors Count is we count on them to do the best for us. And when they don't, we count on each other to let each other know."
She says the people impacted by state pension funding problems aren't just retired teachers like herself.
The meeting lasted three hours with people lobbying against lawmakers raising employee contributions, arguing public safety workers like police, sheriff's deputies, corrections officers, and firefighters already aren't high-paying jobs. They say there's hardly an incentive to recruit workers as it is.
Then, lobbyists for teachers spoke up, reminding the committee it's hard to make a living on a retired teacher's pension.
"The contribution is already so high for our active teachers," Rochester said. "Most teachers depend on the district and the state to take care of us. We expect them to take care of us. We said we'd work for a lower salary because we love teaching."
That debt the pension review committee is trying to stop from growing is about $20 billion now, increasing each year.
Rochester said every dollar can be vital to the livelihood of teachers and retired teachers.
"But $200 may make the difference between whether or not I'm able to pay my prescriptions you know, for my medication for one month," she said. "Maybe I just might have to skip my high blood pressure medication for this month because they cut it."
Tuesday's meeting was only an information session for the committee to take notes on what the public said. But the chairman believes there can be a fix without increasing employee contributions.
"I think there's definitely a way," Rep. Bill Herbkersman said. "I mean there's different methods that we're going to attempt to approach. I think our critical approach is going to be to look at what we heard today, the testimony we heard today and take that back, disseminate that and try to use parts of that to alleviate what we're doing."
The chairman said the next step is to form a plan of attack, based on some of the comments they heard Tuesday. There will, of course, be more meetings to come.