State employees in West Virginia, including teachers, enjoy comparatively liberal pension benefits. For example, it is possible for some educators to retire with full pensions as early as 55 years of age. Rightly or wrongly, that is a decision West Virginia residents have made through our elected legislators.
But the Internal Revenue Service may not agree the choice is West Virginians'. State legislators say they have heard of a pending new IRS rule that would define "normal retirement age" at 62 (50 for law enforcement officers). That could mean state employees would not be permitted to collect full West Virginia pensions as early as they can now.
Originally, IRS officials planned to implement the rule next Jan. 1. But concern about it from throughout the country prompted them to postpone it until Jan. 1, 2015.
As so often is the case with federal regulations, no one seems to know with certainty just how the federal limit would affect local and state workers' pensions. It could mean tax penalties on state pensions or limits on how much retirees can be paid. A penalty scheme similar to that used for private-sector workers who make early withdrawals from 401(k) accounts is possible.
Except in disability situations, most people cannot begin collecting federal Social Security benefits until they reach 62 years of age. But that is a federal system, not a state retirement program.
It all sounds suspiciously like one more Washington scheme to soak taxpayers - in this case, retirees living on fixed incomes.
Again, West Virginia's public employee pension program is ours. State employees and taxpayers fund it. Decisions on how to structure benefits are made in Charleston. It is none of the IRS's business, except to the extent state retirement checks are taxable under current law.
It is understandable that some state workers nearing what they hoped would be their leisure years are concerned about the IRS plan. State officials should press the agency to learn precisely what it will mean in West Virginia.
If it turns out fears being expressed now are valid, our state's delegation in Congress should tell the IRS to scrap its proposal.