As if this isn't bad enough, recently, the local weekly The Inlander had an editorial which sought to reform our "city pensions." The author, Robert Herold, suggested that our "lavish city pensions" were a cause for the city's financial problems. Well, as you know, we don't receive any city pensions.
I emailed the author asking for a retraction. Nothing. I went to visit him during his office hours at Gonzaga University where he is an adjunct professor. He was a no show. Finally, he emailed me to tell me that if I didn't like what he had to say, I should just write a letter to the editor. Which I already had completed. Don Waller had also prepared a letter as an official response from the union. They were not published this week, probably because they had two published that said what we were going to say anyway.
Don and I thought you may want to see what these letters looked like. So here you go. Thanks, John
Local 29's response:
In an article written by Robert Herold, and published by the Inlander on April 18th 2012, there was misrepresentation about the Law Enforcement Officers and Fire Fighters II (LEOFF II) Pension. Here are the facts.
LEOFF is not a City pension as was stated. While most all of the employees in the City are covered by a city pension; Police Officers and Fire Fighters are not.
The Police and Fire Departments make up the largest portion of the General Fund budget, however, pensions are an extremely small portion of each Department’s budget.
The portion of the budget Police and Fire make up has been reduced over the last few decades as the workforce and emergency services have been reduced. Money has been shifted to other parts of the City budget and our citizens have seen greatly reduced Police and Fire service delivery levels.
The minimum retirement age is 53, not 50 as stated. If a pension is collected before the minimum age of 53, a 3% per year penalty is imposed by the state.
Under the LEOFF II pension, an employee pays 8.64% of their gross pay into the retirement system, the employer 5.24%.
Most noteworthy is that the city does NOT contribute to Social Security for firefighters. All employers (government and private) contribute 6.2% to Social Security as required by Federal law. The employer contributes 1% less for Fire Fighters and Police Officers than all other employers do for their employees. Therefore, the LEOFF II Pension is saving our very own City several hundred thousand dollars every year. While the vast majority of Fire Fighters do not qualify for Social Security, those who do, see a SS benefit reduction in direct correlation to their LEOFF II pension benefit. Some Fire Fighters do not even qualify for Medicare, seemingly a right in this country.
Once a LEOFF II Fire Fighter separates from service, the employer no longer has any liability to that Fire Fighter for any reason, including their pension. Washington State manages the funds in the LEOFF system where currently it is fully funded and healthy. The funds that go in, 50% of which are the employees’, are maintaining all benefits and all actuarial reports show that it will sustain itself. The State has threatened to “borrow” money from the LEOFF pension recently like has happened in a few other states, elsewhere this has ended in catastrophe causing many other ramifications to follow.
As someone who usually enjoys Professor Robert Herold's editorials, I was very curious to read what he had to say about the City of Spokane reforming its pension system for firefighters and police officers. Why the curiosity? Because, interestingly, there is no City of Spokane pension system for firefighters and police officers.
It's a shame Bob wasted all that ink and paper to stridently plea for reform of something that doesn't even exist. At least he didn't waste much of his time preparing this editorial. Obviously, Professor Herold's academic forte is not research.
I am a firefighter and a member of IAFF Local 29, the city firefighters' union. The majority of my state-administered pension plan's contributions are made by me. The city does contribute some and so does the state. However, Spokane's firefighters and police officers do not contribute to Social Security, nor will they receive it. Correspondingly, the City of Spokane makes no contribution to our Social Security. The taxpayers of Spokane pay one-percent less to a firefighter's or police officer's pension than they would if they were having to, instead, pay into his or her Social Security. That's right. The City of Spokane saves money because firefighters and police officers are on this pension plan and not on Social Security.
Not satisfied with just attacking something that doesn't even exist, Bob also launches into general falsehoods about police and fire retirements.
Bob, a firefighter or police officer has to work until at least age 53 or be penalized up to 9%. Contrary to what you wrote, there is no retirement allowed before age 50. Most will not even retire at age 53 because much of their retirement would go to pay for private medical insurance until Medicare kicks in at age 65.
Professor Herold worked for 31 years at EWU. He says he didn't have a pension plan - only a 401K. He neglected to disclose that he did have the option of joining a state pension plan, very similar to mine - except he also receives Social Security, but he declined. I suspect he may now be regretting this decision, and this may be the impetus for his editorial. If Professor Herold did as much research into choosing his stock portfolio for his 401K as he did for his article on mythical "police and fire city pensions," his investments surely have not done very well.
Should there be a conversation about public employee pensions? Absolutely. But, why don't we start with discussing pensions that actually exist - what they cost, who pays for them, etc.? Bob, Like I said, I have enjoyed your editorials in the past. Now I have to wonder if they were all just works of fiction, as well. Do your homework next time.