- Jessica Wehrman Washington Bureau
Sen. Rob Portman has joined Sen. Sherrod Brown on a joint committee tasked with solving a pension crisis that has endangered the pensions of 60,000 Ohio workers and retirees.
The 16-member House-Senate committee was created at the insistence of Brown, D-Ohio, who will serve as co-chair. Portman, R-Ohio, is the only other Ohioan on the panel.
“I am hopeful that we can achieve a comprehensive and permanent solution that protects earned pensions, protects taxpayer dollars, prevents the insolvency of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and alleviates pressure on employers,” Portman said.
The c0mmittee will hold at least five public meetings, including one outside of Washington to make it easier for the members to hear from retirees affected by the crisis. The group has until November to craft a plan that would be put before the House and Senate for an up-or-down vote.
Under the agreement reached Wednesday, neither the House nor the Senate will be permitted to amend the agreement.
Co-chairing with Brown is Sen. Orrin Hatch, R–Utah.
At issue are multi–employer pensions created in order to allow employers to pool resources and provide their workers retirement security. The plans, negotiated by a union, are run by trustees selected by the union and employers. For years, most multi–employer plans ran at a surplus.
But market crashes between 2000 and 2009, corporate bankruptcies and new laws have rendered many plans virtually unsalvageable. While some 10 million workers are served by 1,400 multi–employer plans nationwide, some 150 to 200 plans, covering 1.5 million workers and retirees, could run out of money within the next 20 years, according to the Pension Rights Center.
Central States, among the pension programs most in danger, claims some 50,000 members in Ohio.