Amendment One could net state major savings

Published 5:11 pm Friday, February 26, 2016

A statewide amendment on the March 1 Alabama primary ballot could bring changes to the retirement plan for all new judges, justices, circuit clerks and district attorneys.

Statewide Amendment One proposes to authorize the legislature to provide a retirement program for district attorneys and circuit clerks of the state who are first elected or appointed on or after November 8, 2016.

According to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, district attorneys and circuit clerks don’t currently contribute to their retirement, but still receive retirement pay. If voters approve the amendment, it would make new district attorneys and circuit clerks contribute 8.5 percent of their annual salary to their retirement fund.

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“The main thing people need to know about Amendment One is it’s a cost savings for the State of Alabama and for the local communities in which those people serve,” Merrill said. “It does not create a new retirement system. It actually allows people who are already serving in these judicial roles to participate in the existing retirement system, which will be cost saving to all Alabamians,” Merrill said.

Those who support the amendment say it could save the state as much as $200 million over the next 30 years.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler says his figures show Amendment One would save taxpayers $291,000 a year, starting immediately.

“I will cast a ‘Yes’ vote on Amendment One, which is the conservative, waste-cutting thing to do,” Zeigler said.

Amendment One also sets a minimum retirement age of 62 for all new judges, justices, circuit clerks and district attorneys. Current law allows some elected officials to retire after a defined number of years of service regardless of age, entitling some to draw sizable pensions for life.

The Alabama District Attorneys Association approved the bill by a unanimous vote.

“These changes are long overdue, and with the state’s budget situation reaching crisis status, the time has come to take the steps necessary to put these retirement programs on stable financial footing while saving taxpayers millions of dollars,” said Mike O’Dell, a district attorney who helped draft the bill.

Anyone currently in the one of the impacted positions would be grandfathered into the old supernumerary system. This amendment would only affect people who would be new to the retirement system after Nov. 8.