Teachers, firefighters and police are celebrating today. That’s after lawmakers dropped legislation that would make drastic changes to their retirement benefits.
Police and firefighters get to keep their retiree health benefits – at least for now. State lawmakers were considering drastic cuts for municipal retirees in areas with too many unfunded liabilities.
But there was huge blowback from police and firefighters, who rallied in Lansing Tuesday. Attendees included David Parish – a Grand Rapids firefighter for the last 25 years. He says he understands the problem of unfunded liabilities the legislation seeks to address, but doesn’t think this is the best way to handle it.
“I believe the issue of retiree health benefits is too important of an issue and affects too many people to be dealt with in just a week of lame duck session and rammed through without proper deliberation,” he said.
While the legislature is dropping the issue this year, House Speaker Kevin Cotter says he hopes the issue will be taken up again next year.
“We thought about a lot of things and I think next session to the extent that this gets attention, they’ll think about a lot of options,” he said. “And hopefully we can see groups that are affected be at the table.”
Cotter is a bill sponsor. He and other proponents of the legislation argue the cuts are necessary to help areas crippled by unfunded liabilities, and prevent potential local bankruptcies. However, Cotter said, “We need to just take more time. We need to make sure we have all the answers. We need to be very thoughtful about something of this kind of consequence.”
Only one bill remains in the municipal retiree health benefits package. The remaining transparency bill would give reporting requirements to local governments. The House Local Government committee passed it through committee Tuesday.
For the teachers, legislation that would require all new public school teachers to have a 401(k) style retirement package. Right now, teachers have a hybrid style plan that includes a pension.
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof’s spokesperson, Amber McCann said the caucus wanted more time to review the policy. McCann predicted that similar legislation would be introduced in the New Year, but it would not be addressed during lame duck.