Taxpayers Getting Burned
As I have discussed many times before, some of the worst public policy ideas in Missouri have come from the various firefighter’s unions. Whether it was the tax grab in the Robertson Fire District (dominated by union interests) or the truly terrible idea to close the municipal fire departments in Mid-St. Louis County in favor of one giant (and union dominated) fire district, there are plenty of bad policies. But the continuing effort to replace the new fireman’s pension system in the City of St. Louis by reverting to the old system may be the worst.
This isn’t that complicated. The new St. Louis city fireman’s pension board was created because the old one was dominated by union interests who made it incredibly generous for firemen and civilian employees of the department. One of those civilian employees received a half-million-dollar (!!!) cash payout upon her retirement, on top of her generous pension. As this recent Post-Dispatch story explains, the union trustees on the new board have implemented draconian changes to the pension funds, things such as cancelling the annual pension board training trip to Key West. Cue the outrage; from the Post story:
Paul Payne, the city’s budget director, said going to an industry conference in South Florida looked less like education than vacation. And he told Kenny Mitchell, a firefighter trustee who wanted to go, just that.
Meeting minutes relay what happened next: “Trustee Mitchell responded to Trustee Payne with a profane remark.”
I’ve been to Key West many times. It is uniquely wonderful for many things. Pension board training is not one of them.
The St. Louis Board of Aldermen just passed, once again, a bill to return the pension plan to the control of the fireman’s union instead of the new city board that runs it for the benefit of both firemen and taxpayers. That means having a pension system that pays fireman what they deserve, but also considers the interests of the taxpayers at the same time. It doesn’t mean pension training trip to Key West, nor does it mean half-million-dollar cash payouts on top of the pensions. What does St. Louis City’s budget director think it means?
The [proposed] move will consolidate pension oversight under a firefighter-run board that spent double what a city-run panel paid for administration last year. And Budget Director Paul Payne says it would be a first step toward taking the pension system back to where it was a decade ago, when years of rubber-stamping benefit increases led to a budget crisis and forced painful cuts.
“Their history,” Payne said of the firefighters, “is not one of saving money.”
Mayor Jones has vetoed the legislation, just as Mayor Krewson vetoed it previously, and as Mayor Slay would likely recommend after having spent considerable time, effort, and political capital during his term making these necessary reforms in the first place. Good for Mayor Jones. Pension funds should be run for the benefit of those government employees promised good benefits in accordance with the overall fiscal health of the city and its taxpayers, not just one of them.