Ark. Panel Backs Title Fee Hike for Police Pension

ANDREW DeMILLO | Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Car buyers in Arkansas would have to pay twice as much in title and title application fees under a proposal advanced Monday by a legislative committee that is aimed at helping shore up the struggling Arkansas State Police pension system.

The Joint Committee on Public Retirement and Social Security Programs recommended passage of the proposal by Sen. Michael Lamoureux to double title and duplicate title fees from $1 to $2. The measure would also raise title application fees from $4 to $8.

Lamoureux said his proposal would raise $4.6 million annually and would give a boost to a system that the Legislature assisted two years ago with $9 million from the state surplus.

"The question is, do we meet every year or every two years and do something temporary to try to keep this thing solvent? Or do we try to do something that's a one-time fix and move on?" Lamoureux, R-Russellville, told lawmakers. "I think this is that one-time fix. I think this is the least painful way to accomplish something we have to accomplish."

The state police pension program has struggled for years, and in 1997 lawmakers changed the retirement system so it would pay less in benefits to participants and survivors. Lawmakers in 2009 approved the one-time money for the program and also approved merging its assets with the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System.

Gail Stone, the executive director of the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System, said the new money from the title fee increases could help the system better than another one-time funding source such as the state surplus. Col. Winford Phillips, director of state police, told the panel the retirement package is a "big asset" in recruiting new troopers.

When asked how much she'd likely ask the Legislature for in one-time money in the future if the hikes aren't approved, Stone said: "It won't be $9 million I'm asking for. It will be something like $15 million or $18 million."

The measure now heads to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future. Lamoureux said he hoped to gain more support for the fee hikes, but he and other members of the panel noted that many lawmakers have said they're opposed to any fee or tax increases during this year's session.

"I hope that . . . our members to go our respective chambers and either speak favorably of it, or at the very least, not get up and demagogue against it," said Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, D-Crossett. "Remember, we need to fix this so we don't have to worry about it later on."

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