Politicians are not always noted for making the tough decisions. Still, it was more than a little disappointing to see the Sarasota City Commission stay in character even as it changed characters last fall and punt a necessary change in police pensions to some future commission.
Because of the unsustainable and crushing costs of the police pension program, the commission had been considering weaning officers from the pension plan, for which monthly retirement is guaranteed at taxpayer expense, and moving officers into a defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k). The defined contribution plan is what the private sector mostly uses.
But at the jammed meeting last week, commissioners unanimously chose to continue the guaranteed pension — something almost no taxpayers enjoy. And, they dropped the ideas of a defined contribution and reducing the annual increase in retirement benefits.
We hope the vote was not caving in to a room filled with police and their families. The police union packed the commission chambers with about 100 officers wearing T-shirts saying, “Support your police.” (Is this a good moment to point out for the umpteenth time the dangers for taxpayers of government unions?)
Let’s be clear. The Sarasota Observer is a supporter of law-enforcement officers. We stand firmly behind them when we believe they are wrongly under assault. Frankly, we’d prefer cops got paid more, and bureaucrats got paid less.
But this issue is not about supporting police. It is about making the city financially viable and protecting future taxpayers from being crushed under a financial burden they should not have to carry. It is about a fair policy to everyone, not just police — and, again, not just members of a government union.
The police union representative at the meeting said even the commission’s cave-in position (rolling back annual pension increases) could make Sarasota “the worst police department in the state.” See, the government unions fight for their members only, expressly against the financial interests of taxpayers, because it is the elected officials who are supposed to be looking out for taxpayers.
If only …
Commissioners approved rolling back the annual pension increase from the current 3.2% level to 1%. The former was too high, and the latter may be low. But that just goes to the problem of five changing politicians running the financial affairs of city retirees. It’s really a nutty arrangement, and one the commission had the perfect opportunity to jettison.
Alas, after going through nine months of negotiations, declaring impasse and using a special magistrate to get to the point of imposing a contract, the commission blinked and kept the current system. So, actually, it was not a punt. It was a bungled fumble.
The city needs to get out of the pension business, let employees manage their own retirement affairs and get taxpayers off the hook for good.