LANSING — Michigan House Democrats will fight back vigorously against attacks on the retiree health care promises made to police, fire fighters and other county and municipal workers in the current lame duck session, Democratic members of the House Local Government Committee said today. Under a 13-bill plan introduced late Wednesday afternoon, retirement health care promises made to local government employees — even ones outlined in labor contracts — will be voided if health care retirement systems are less than 80 percent prefunded, and retirees will have to pay 20 percent or more of their health care costs. The plan would include current retirees, who saved for retirement according to promises that Republicans plan to shred.
“With just days left to go in the current legislative session, House Republicans have decided that cheating retirees out of their health care benefits is an emergency that cannot be delayed,” said state Rep. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), who is the Democratic vice chairman of the House Local Government Committee. “This is an important and complicated issue and deserves a thoughtful legislative solution that will cause as little economic strain on police officers, fire fighters and others as possible. Instead, they have presented an incredibly lazy plan that they are attempting to steamroll through the Legislature before the year’s end.”
The Republican plan allows existing contracts to stand, but future contracts would have to adhere to new state rules. Those rules include requiring retirees — including existing retirees — to pay at least 20 percent of their health care costs. For retirees living on fixed incomes, that means paying more for health care out of existing pensions — pensions that, under a Republican-backed law, became subject to a new tax in 2012.
“It’s discouraging to keep taking things away from seniors who are already retired, and to go back on an obligation made to workers who often put their lives on the line for us,” state Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) said. “You can’t value the professional working class in one breath, and with the next make it harder for them to get the health care they need once they retire from serving us. We need to work on a plan that works for those who have served the community and not go back on our promises. They deserve better than this, and we are going to fight for them.”
If enacted, the bills will take the ability of cities and counties to make budgeting decisions that are best for their communities, and instead shoe-horn them into a one-size-fits-all state mandate. At the same time, the state has drastically cut its revenue sharing with local communities, which has made it harder for them to offer competitive pay, benefits and retirement plans.
“The state is sharing fewer and fewer dollars with cities and counties, and at the same time, it wants to dictate how local communities can spend those dollars,” state Rep. Charles Brunner (D-Bay City) said. “Rather than taking more resources away from our communities, the state should restore revenue sharing withheld over the past 20 years, so that our communities can provide the benefits their employees earned.”
The House Republican plan is being considered at a time when the future of the Affordable Care Act is in question, and some Republican leaders in Washington, D.C., are talking about plans to dismantle Medicare. With the future of their health care already unclear, local government workers and retirees now face even more uncertainty.
“Retirees can’t afford continued attacks on their retirement income and benefits,” said state Rep. David Rutledge (D-Ypsilanti). “When a retiree can’t afford health care, they’ll go to the doctor of last resort — the emergency room. That’s going to make health care more expensive for everyone, and ultimately raise the cost to the state. Not only is this plan coldhearted, it’s fiscally irresponsible, and we will fight it vigorously.”