Arizona’s public-safety pension system faces financial peril because of poor investments and generous retirement benefits. (Wochit)
Retired detective: Arizona lawmakers offered way too many pension perks for some, and now they want to take away protections that would hurt those who are scraping by.
I was mad as hell after reading Craig Harris’ July 19 story, “Mayors call on Ducey to push overhaul of financially fragile public-safety pension system.”
Public Safety Personnel Retirement System Board Chairman Brian Tobin, a firefighter from Phoenix and former union official, was going to get a projected $817,398 lump-sum payment from the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) and a retirement check of $133,968 a year.
No wonder the PSPRS is horribly broken and the state Legislature is talking about another Constitutional amendment to cut pensions of police officers and firefighters in order to cut the skyrocketing pension costs. The pension was once funded at 120 percent and the best in the nation.
That changed when the state Legislature started adding perks to the PSPRS that will allow Tobin and others to walk away rich.
Times changed, lawmakers didn’t
When the PSPRS started, you got 50 percent after 20 years. No raises until you were 55. No working for another department and double-dipping, no DROP and no “spiking” with overtime.
At the time, 60-some percent of pensioners received a check for five to seven years and then they died. Things changed. But the Legislature didn’t change the funding formula to take into account greater longevity, nor did it make changes when there were benefit increases driven by the powerful fire and police unions.
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It’s pretty easy to see what happened. A lack of fiduciary oversight from the Legislature, greed from the fire and police unions, an up-and-down economy, poor management and employers withholding payments into the fund. It was a perfect storm for failure.
Now the Legislature is talking about a second Constitutional amendment to fix what they didn’t fix with Proposition 124, the first attempt to fix the PSPRS with an amendment.
I’m sure the cry to slash and burn extra-generous benefits will ring loud, but people need to remember we’re not all going to be millionaires like chairman Tobin will be.
Most retirees aren’t getting rich
There are plenty of widows, orphans and disabled police officers and firefighters who live paycheck to paycheck, especially after paying as much as $2,000 a month for health insurance from the PSPRS. Most retirees never made nearly as much as Tobin, and their pensions barely cover the insurance costs.
DROP wasn’t around until recently, and in the past there was little or no overtime for police and fire. Some are without any Social Security benefits because they didn’t have to pay into the system — because their employers opted out years ago to save money.
Not everyone who pulls a hose or carries a gun makes what they make at the Phoenix police and fire departments.
The working cops and firefighters who were lucky enough to retire didn’t break the system. They earned their pensions and trusted the system.
The Legislature broke the system, and they need to think long and hard before stealing money from someone who played by the rules and risked their lives to protect them.
Bill Richardson is a retired Mesa police detective.
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