LOS ANGELES, CA: Los Angeles public safety unions responded angrily this week to a proposal to freeze the pay of firefighters and police if the city's contribution to their retirement benefits reaches a certain amount.
The proposal, from a group of business leaders and former Mayor Richard Riordan, came as the city released new budget projections showing that taxpayers would see retirement costs for police officers and firefighters climb by 56% over the next four years.
Pensions and retiree healthcare costs for sworn employees are projected to consume $789 million of the city's general fund budget in 2016, up from $506 million this year, according to figures prepared by budget analysts. Every dollar in the general fund that goes for retirement costs cannot be used for other expenditures, such as library books, park programs and police salaries.
Tyler Izen, president of the Police Protective League, questioned the accuracy of the numbers and said his members have already made sacrifices by supporting a pension reform ballot measure last year and by giving up millions of dollars in overtime pay and taking time off instead.
"I've got officers who have been, frankly, struggling economically because there is no available overtime," said Izen, who represents rank-and-file officers.
Pat McOsker, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112, said his members had also done their part, supporting last year's ballot measure and agreeing to contribute 11% of their pay toward retirement costs. McOsker said city leaders failed to put money toward pension costs during some of the years when the city's Fire and Police Pensions Fund had strong investment returns, then were forced to scramble in the wake the financial meltdown of 2008.
"It's Wall Street that created this financial crisis," he said.
Riordan and the business leaders had called for the city to freeze the pay of sworn employees if the city's contribution to their retirement benefits exceeds 25% of their salaries. They also pushed a measure to take control over civilian employee pensions away from the mayor and City Council if retirement costs are not reduced.