LINCOLN — More than 400 Nebraska State Patrol troopers have sued the governor and other state officials in federal court, claiming they've been overcharged for contributions to their pension fund.
The 411 current and former troopers filed a 118-page complaint Monday in U.S. District Court in Lincoln, asking a judge to order the state to return all overpayments, plus interest. It's unclear how much such refunds would subtract from the $279 million pension fund.
The lawsuit says the troopers agreed to pay fixed percentages of their salaries to the retirement fund when they were hired, with the state paying a matching contribution. But the Nebraska Legislature has ordered troopers to pay an increased percentage of their compensation seven times between 1995 and 2011.
As a result, the rates grew from 8 percent of pay in 1995 to 19 percent this year, the lawsuit says.
The average trooper now pays $1,000 per month to the pension plan, said Scott Black, a member of the State Troopers Association of Nebraska and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
"Each and every trooper is willing to lay down his or her life on any given day, and in exchange we simply ask the state to keep the promise it made to each of us when we joined the force," Black said.
The troopers have never agreed to the increases under employment contracts that are set by state law. Therefore, the mandatory increase in pension withholding violated terms of employment, along with the "contracts clause" of the U.S. Constitution, said Gary Young of Lincoln, a lawyer representing the troopers.
"The increased rates don't give them additional benefits," Young said Tuesday. "It just requires them to pay more into the retirement system."
Defendants named in the lawsuit are Gov. Dave Heineman, Treasurer Don Stenberg, former Treasurer Shane Osborn and Carlos Castillo, director of the Department of Administrative Services.
The governor referred questions to Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, who will defend the state. Bruning's spokeswoman declined to comment Tuesday.
Troopers have made state officials aware of their objections to the rate increases, Young said. By law, they cannot bargain for retirement benefits, so their only recourse is a lawsuit, the attorney said.
Nebraska also is the only state that does not provide a retirement health insurance benefit for state police, Young said.
"Obviously, they're pushing costs onto the troopers," he said.
The state required judges to pay similar pension fund increases in 2003, and the judges prevailed in a lawsuit filed in federal court, Young said.
Based on financial reports released this month, the troopers' pension account is funded at 83 percent, which state officials say is above average.
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