Pension issue at the polls
Baltimore's FOP and firefighter's union are furious over a pension reform law approved by the City Council and signed into law by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake earlier this summer. They filed a federal lawsuit asking the court to halt the pension changes and claiming the city "knowingly underfunded" the pension for a decade.
Today, as Justin Fenton reports on the Baltimore Crime Beat blog, the unions posted a billboard saying "Welcome to Baltimore, Home to a Mayor & City Council who turned their backs on our Police & Firefighters."
Firefighters union president Bob Sledgeski says the unions will continue to turn up the heat on the mayor and council as next year's elections approach.
"We’ll see this from now until next September," says Sledgeski. "Our members have been at the protests, they've been at the rallies, they've been at the fundraisers and they're going to continue to come out."
Last month, two dozen police and firefighters protested outside a fundraiser for Councilman Bill Cole that was hosted by Rawlings-Blake at Luckie's Tavern.
The unions hope to send a message to Rawlings-Blake and the council members who supported the pension plan that their actions will not be forgotten on election day. But it's unclear if voters will agree with them. Many police officers and firefighters live outside the city, so they won't be casting ballots.
And city officials say the pension changes-- which increased the requirements of retirement and replaces a costly variable benefit with a fixed 1 percent or 2 percent cost-of-living increase-- are necessary to avert a fiscal disaster. The changes are estimated to save the city $65 million in the coming fiscal year.
Ian Brennan, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, issued this statement."Rank and file police and fire officers understand that cities that give full retirements to 41 year old government employees will go bankrupt before long.
This year’s reform of the Fire and Police Pension System ensures our retirees will have a dignified and secure retirement plan the City can afford. The restructuring saves more than $400 million over the next five years and rescues the pension system from fiscal collapse"