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Two Judges Take First Steps to Challenge State Retirement System

Phoenix, AZ – Judges are part of the Elected Officials Retirement Plan. Members kick in 7 percent of their salary each year and then get to retire at 80 percent of what they were making after 20 years. The changes approved earlier this year by the Legislature, which took effect last week, will eventually raise that contribution to 13 percent. And there will be limits on cost-of-living adjustments for retirees. In legal papers filed with the state, attorney Ron Kilgard said those who became judges entered into a contract with the state, a contract he said lawmakers cannot alter.

(Part of the agreement we make and part of the cost-benefit analysis you make, especially if you're leaving private practice, is that you get a salary. It can't go down. It's constitutionally protected. And you get this very significant retirement benefit.)

And Kilgard said requiring judges to make larger contributions amounts to a pay cut which is constitutionally prohibited. The claim -- a legal precursor to filing a lawsuit against the state -- drew derision from former House Speaker Kirk Adams who pushed the changes through the Legislature earlier this year.

(I think it's ironic that because we ask somebody to pay more towards their own retirement -- not my retirement, not your retirement, but towards their own retirement -- so that the system will be there to deal with the immediate actuarial requirements, that somehow that's a diminishment of their benefits.)

Adams said what the judges should realize is that if legislators did nothing, there might be no benefits at all when they retire because the underfunded system would collapse. This is actually the second legal action stemming from the changes. Three unions representing public school, state and university workers in a separate retirement plan filed suit two weeks ago seeking to overturn a change that increases their pension costs. For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.