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Teacher pension system back in Lansing's crosshairs

The Michigan Senate chamber. Democratic Party leaders will name a replacement tonight for their 20th district candidate.

A showdown is brewing in Lansing over the fate of teacher retirements. 

Teachers can currently choose between a full 401(k) type plan or a hybrid 401(k) and pension plan.

Many Democrats, like Senator David Knezek, oppose the legislation.

“We have example after example after example of why this doesn’t work,” he said. “Why it doesn’t make fiscal sense in the short term. Why it doesn’t make fiscal sense in the long-term. But what we are I think leaving out of that conversation is the real impact that it has on people’s lives.”

Knezek said teachers won’t find the new plans generous enough and worries it won’t attract new teachers to the state.

But Republican Representative and bill sponsor Thomas Albert said their plan will attract new teachers.

“[We] have a pretty big, looming teacher shortage right now,” he said. “So the status quo’s not working. The new generation wants mobility, my generation wants mobility, and this is what it gives them.”

Governor Rick Snyder just might be an unlikely friend in the Democrats' corner. Snyder has pushed for the current hybrid plan and has said he wants to keep in place. He said the state’s retirement liabilities are on their way to being paid off by 2038. He’s also expressed concerns about the projected transition costs of a strictly 401(k) plan – the estimated costs range from $2.1 billion to $4.7 billion over five years.

But Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof says he will continue talking to the governor.

“It’s negotiating and figuring out where we can land and find a way to give teachers a secure retirement going forward,” he said. “And we don’t agree on all the details – in fact we don’t agree on probably the biggest details but we’re gonna keep working on it.”

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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