Categories: Albert News,Lower News,News 30Nov Reps. Lower, Albert lead reforms to protect local government retiree benefits and public services State Reps. Jim Lower and Thomas Albert today led the introduction of a landmark reform plan aimed at protecting public services and the retirement benefits for police, firefighters and other local government employees in Michigan.The plan will help identify the local governments most at risk of bankruptcy due to unfunded retirement plan liabilities and set up a system to help them avoid financial crisis.“Local governments across Michigan have nearly $20 billion in unfunded liabilities connected to their employee retirement systems,” said Albert, of Lowell, after introducing legislation in the House. “This debt is a cancer eating away at communities and the quality of life across the state.”Lower, of Cedar Lake, said urgent action is needed to prevent problems from growing worse across the state.“We must act now to safeguard the retirement benefits of police officers, firefighters and all other local government employees across Michigan to the fullest extent possible,” Lower said. “We must act now to protect funding for the essential public services we all rely on. And we must do it in a way that won’t pass along debt to our children and grandchildren.”Albert participated on a task force earlier this year, assembled by Gov. Rick Snyder, to explore the critical challenges posed by Michigan’s underfunded local government employee retirement systems. The Michigan House is following up the task force report with a 19-bill package to address mounting local retiree healthcare and pension costs.The legislation creates a reporting system with uniform financial and accounting standards for local government retirement plans. An early detection system will help local governments and the state identify potential funding problems and act quickly to mitigate them. Communities will be vetted through a state treasurer’s fiscal impact evaluation and retirement systems will be flagged as underfunded when municipalities aren’t meeting set criteria to alleviate their debts.Local governments will have plenty of opportunity to address issues on their own. But if that fails, a financial management team (FMT) with local and state representation will step in to force changes to put programs back on firm financial footing.“Each community is going to be starting from a different place within this problem and will face their own unique challenges,” said Albert, of Lowell. “That is why we must offer a solution with flexibility and local input in mind.”Added Lower: “If we don’t fix this problem now, communities with dangerously underfunded retirement systems could go bankrupt and fail to keep promises made to retirees. This plan heads off that problem and gives local governments a warning system to prioritize and safeguard the benefits retirees and current employees expect.”PHOTO INFORMATION: State Reps. Thomas Albert (seated, center), of Lowell and Jim Lower (third from right), of Cedar Lake, are joined by colleagues from the Michigan House of Representatives during the introduction of a multi-bill package on Thursday. The bills address mounting municipal retiree benefit system debt and bolster revenue sharing funding throughout the state.