From the President’s Desk…

Those of you who regularly attend MPA meetings know the primary concern I have for our profession and our future is in our pension system.

For the vast majority of us who wanted to become police officers, this profession was a calling that also offered stability as a secondary benefit. Though you may not become rich being a cop, you could still plan your life accordingly knowing you had a semblance of financial stability after you retired.

Yet, our retirement is constantly being attacked by state and federal politicians who want you to retire with less.

I have news for you that stability is now walking on a thin ice. PSPRS is currently 57% funded. 57%. Detroit’s pension system, by comparison, is in the upper ninety percentile funded (98%), and guess what, the Detroit Police Officers Association is now spending upwards of $96,000 a month in legal costs battling to keep their retirements.

But it’s not only Detroit; it’s happening in Chicago, Illinois, Miami, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, and the U.S. Military, etc.

This is one major battle in an ongoing war against YOUR retirement. If you think that what happens there can’t or won’t happen here, you are wrong.

It’s already happening here. The retirement age for our new hires has changed to 25 years of service and new hires cannot collect their pension until age 52—that’s 25 years of service and 52 years old.

There are a few issues with our pension system that need to be sorted out. One of the reasons why what was once 100%+ but now is only 57% funded was mismanagement. How mismanaged? Mismanaged enough to have Arizona Police Association (APA) executive director Levi Bolton request a federal inquiry into the funds management practices.

Another issue with the fund is that its life’s blood is very much dependent on new hires. Not on the current new hires, that is just for attrition, but actually increasing the number of our workforce. You can have the greatest financial plan in the world but without the money to invest in that plan it amounts to nothing. Increasing ours, Phoenix’s, Glendale’s, Tempe’s…etc., workforces would help sustain the fund.

Now “they” (and I’ll let you know who “they” are a little later) want us to retire on a 401k. This is ridiculous. We do not pay into social security; we DO however pay substantially into our retirement. A 401K plan is a perk, a benefit, and certainly not a retirement plan. Who would want to do this job knowing that your retirement is at the mercy of basically your deferred compensation (457) plan? Even if you maxed out your deferred comp do you think you could sustain a family on it? Doubtful, but there are those out there who believe we should.

So who do we have to blame for this? The department? The city? The state? For that I am going to defer to an op ed piece authored by Jim Brown and published in the Boston Globe. Jim Brown was a professor at the Kennedy school of Government and is the husband of Cynthia Brown who is the Editor of American Police Beat magazine. Jim wrote:

“The real blame for our ongoing economic distress goes to failed policies in Washington and speculative excesses on Wall Street. In 2009 state tax revenues fell considerably. Safety net expenditures were increased to assist the millions of people who lost their jobs. Increases in expenditures were compounded by the astronomical increase in health care costs.

It is interesting to note that during the recession the majority of the bailout funds went to large banks and corporations, not state and local governments that are now struggling financially.

We must set the record straight and help the public understand the truth. The conventional wisdom among the electorate is that teacher and firefighter pensions have caused the problem. This is a fallacy that cannot go unchallenged any longer.”

If you read into what Jim wrote above you get what he and myself believe to be true, but I will go a step further and say that for us here in the State of Arizona, there are those in our state legislature (the “they” I spoke of earlier) that believe we should trust our money to Wall Street and base our retirement on what most high paid executives regard as a perk, and retire on a 401k. This is absolutely, unequivocally unacceptable.

I find it ironic how much “they” value us. “They” call us to their homes when there is trouble. “They” weep for us when one of us dies in the line of duty. “They” want our support when “they” are up for reelection or running for an office. “They” want to have their picture taken with us to post on their boards. “They” want us to go door to door for them when and if we can to help them get elected. Yet, “they” turn around and want to take our pensions from us.

So what can we do about it? VOTE. Educate yourself on who is running for what office and find out where they stand, as far as our future is concerned, and either vote them in or vote them out.

Ultimately the only people who matter the most are the people we go home to at the end of our shift. How you vote can possibly dictate how we are going to be able to provide for the ones we hold dearest in our hearts and to those of us that paid with their lives.

Rick Perine