Warren Legislators Fight to Protect Police, Firefighter Benefits

Republicans fast track legislation to rob retirees of thier benefits
Tuesday, December 5, 2017

LANSING — Senate and House Democrats representing Warren spoke out today against Republican sponsored bills that would strip benefits -- including healthcare -- from retired police and firefighters across the state.  In addition, the legislation threatens to send more emergency managers into communities to fund necessary services after years of revenue sharing cuts to local governments. Both the Republican-led House and Senate Michigan Competitiveness Committees heard testimony on the package today and passed them to be considered by each chamber respectively.

“Local governments have lost out on $8.1 billion in revenue sharing over the last 15 years due to sweeping cuts at the state level.  These cuts have created the fiscal stress localities are facing today. Blaming retirement benefits and healthcare is far too simple and is a scapegoat to the real issue, which is lack of revenue from the state,” said state Rep. Patrick Green, who is also Democratic chairman of the House Local Government Committee. “Firefighters and police officers earned these benefits – Promises Made should be Promises Kept.  It is wrong to strip them now, particularly when there is a widely agreed upon solution available, allowing us to keep the promises made to our first responders.”   

Last year, a similar provision was placed before the Legislature and was met with backlash from police officers, fire fighters, corrections officers, and other municipal employees. In response, the governor convened the Responsible Retirement Reform for Local Government Task Force, who issued recommendations for a solution to this state-wide problem. The task force released its report this summer, which received support from all invested parties. Despite that, the bills that are in front of the committees institute drastic reforms going go far beyond the agreements and recommendations the Task Force offered.

          “I was a firefighter and paramedic in Sterling Heights for 18 years and I’ve worked with first responders who have faced serious, life-threatening health issues as a result of their work,” said state Rep. Henry Yanez (D-Sterling Heights). “These brave men and women have worked hard to keep our communities safe.  They have earned and deserve the benefits they were promised. The Republican plan is not the answer.  If we properly funded local government instead of robbing them of over $8 billion in the last 15 years, this wouldn’t be an issue.”

          The 15-bill Republican- sponsored package would leave injured officers and firefighters without much needed health care protections when they retire, despite the fact that first responders often face higher than average health care costs.   

          “As a former Wayne County Sheriff’s deputy, I know what first responders face every day on the job,” said state Rep. John Chirkun (D-Roseville). “I know the health care issues many of them deal with throughout their lives because of the job. These are the people who protect us, our families and our communities every single day. We should be considering the task force report solutions and not trying to strip them of what they’ve earned and deserve.”

          The Republican plan would also allow a financial emergency to be declared and require the Governor to appoint an emergency manager for a local unit of government if it is deemed that the local unit has failed to comply with mandates or requirements of the legislation to deal with its financial issues. Under current Michigan law, emergency managers have the power to alter contracts and benefits, including pensions and health care benefits. Michigan voters previously repealed the state’s emergency manager law before the Snyder-Schuette administration pushed through similar legislation that included an appropriation making the legislation immune to referendum. The legislation before the House and Senate includes a similarly unnecessary appropriation.

          “It’s unbelievable that both chambers would simply ignore the task force and its report,” said state Senate Steve Bieda (D-Warren). “That report came about because similar legislation crashed and burned last session. Everyone understands that many local governments are facing serious financial issues and we can’t ignore that. But we absolutely should not deal with those issues by attacking first responders. They put themselves in the worst kind of dangerous situations, and lay their lives on the line every single day for us. Let’s come together and work on solutions that will truly benefit them.”