Editorial: The Legislature must set the Supreme Court straight

West Virginia is generous to state employees who serve in the military, giving veterans credit toward their state pensions the time they served in the Persian Gulf War of 1991 and certain other periods of combat.

In March, the state Supreme Court extended the extra pension time to include other conflicts not specified in state law, including service in Nicaragua, Somalia, Lebanon, Grenada and Panama.

The original law was meant to be fair to men drafted from a state government job into the military. The draft ended in 1973.

But lawmakers also included in the law “those periods sanctioned by a declaration of war by U.S. Congress or by executive or other order of the president.”

Thus the high court added these other actions.

This week, officials at the state Consolidated Public Retirement Board said the decision will cost state taxpayers another $14.6 million a year in contributions to the Public Employee Retirement System, based on figures from the state auditor’s office.

“In 2006, a fiscal note for a bill that would have provided the same expansion of service credits as the Supreme Court decision estimated the change would increase pension benefits by about $42.5 million a year, and increase the PERS unfunded liability by about $236 million,” the Gazette’s Phil Kabler reported.

Thus when lawmakers saw how big the bill was, they declined to extend the benefit.

With the new lower estimate of the cost, perhaps legislators would extend the benefits.

Perhaps not.

But the decision on appropriating an additional $14.6 million like this belongs to the Legislature, not the state Supreme Court.

Lawmakers should at the first available opportunity make their intentions clear by revising this law.

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