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Firefighters Offer To Cut Their Own Pensions?

Posted by Feld Fire on 8/21/2014 to Fire Fighting

In city and county governments all over the country, the effects of the Great Recession are still being felt. Even years after the recession ended, several cities have filed bankruptcy and there are a laundry list of others on the verge of it unless they get their financial houses in order quickly. And for some, that may mean the difficult step of either laying off workers like firefighters or police officers or cut government employee pensions or medical benefit payments to keep from having liabilities so large that the municipality couldn't recover.

One thing that has been sacred has been firefighter and police officer salaries and pensions - especially the pensions. In many states, the unions have rallied great support in defense of pensions, and very few state legislators or voters have stepped up to challenge them.

But in Arizona, a right-to-work state where the state legislature has a lot of leverage and the unions not so much, there are some interesting bedfellows in the chase to establish fiscal solvency - the head of a key firefighters' lobbying group and a state legislator working together on a proposal that would actually cut the amount of money the cities and towns contribute to the public safety officers' pensions.

Bryan Jefferies, head of the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona (PFFA), made the connection that public-safety officers have an obligation to take this step based on their oath - claiming that oath to protect people doesn't just apply to physical peril but also financial trouble.

Jefferies said recently, "It is critical for our state, for the taxpayers and for the next generation that will be here long after we are gone, that we repair this. I know intellectually that with these ballooning payments, I feel a direct conflict with the oath I took to protect the citizens."

In order to make the changes, though, it could take a vote of the people to change the state constitution, after the Legislature in Arizona tried a fix last year but had it shot down by the state's Supreme Court as being unconstitutional because the constitution protects public safety pensions from any "impairment."

The push could be to change the wording of the constitution, or some groups say to go all the way and repeal that part of the constitution altogether, so the Legislature and municipal governments would have the flexibility to make necessary changes.

What are your thoughts about this? Based on your oath to protect, do you think that applies to your pension or your salary for the sake of the city or town for which you work, and by extension the people you serve? Are you currently dealing with this discussion in your area? Let us know!

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