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House OKs cost-of-living increase for public pensioners

March 10, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2020, file photo, Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat reacts to the governor's State of the State address at a news conference following his speech in Oklahoma City. Most retired school teachers, firefighters and other public workers would receive their first pension increase in 12 years under a bill that sailed through the Oklahoma House on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Treat said this week he personally supports the new payment approach, but there's not a consensus among Senate Republicans. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2020, file photo, Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat reacts to the governor's State of the State address at a news conference following his speech in Oklahoma City. Most retired school teachers, firefighters and other public workers would receive their first pension increase in 12 years under a bill that sailed through the Oklahoma House on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Treat said this week he personally supports the new payment approach, but there's not a consensus among Senate Republicans. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams, File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Most retired school teachers, firefighters and other public workers would receive their first pension increase in 12 years under a bill that sailed through the Oklahoma House on Tuesday.

Members voted 99-0 for the bill to give a 4% cost-of-living allowance, or COLA, to about 85% of public retirees. Under the bill’s tiered approach, those who retired between two and five years ago would see a 2% boost, while those retired for less than two years would get no increase.

Medical insurance, prescription drugs and utilities have all increased dramatically in the last decade, said retired mental health worker Dixie Jackson of Norman.

“Other retirees have had to get other jobs to pay for these things,” she said. “That’s not retirement.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, where lawmakers have been more cautious about the impact a cost-of-living allowance will have on the solvency of the state’s pension systems.

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat said this week he personally supports the tiered approach, but there’s not a consensus among Senate Republicans.

Oklahoma’s pension systems were among the worst-funded in the nation about a decade ago, when lawmakers approved a new law requiring any COLAs to be fully funded. That change improved the health of the pension systems but also left retirees without a pay hike to cover rising costs.