Sun, July 21

State Senate unanimously endorses revamping police, fire pension plan

PHOENIX -- State senators gave unanimous approval Thursday to revamping the pension plan covering police and firefighters.

But it faces an uncertain fate in the House.

The three-bill package sets new rules for employees hired this summer. They will contribute more to their pensions, have decreased benefits if they retire early and face caps on how much they can collect.

And one provision, subject to voter approval at a May 17 special election, limits the annual inflation adjustments made in pension payments for not just new hires but those still working as well as those already retired.

Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, who put the plan together, said it will save money and help the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System return to financial solvency.

But Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, told Capitol Media Services on Thursday he's not sure the package is a good deal.

Olson acknowledged that some of the changes eventually will reduce the amount of money being paid out. The retirement fund currently has less than half the cash needed to meet current obligations.

He said, though, some of the changes actually could increase costs to the fund.

Olson said he wants to take a closer look to see the fiscal bottom line. And he said some changes may be necessary.

Lesko acknowledged that there are ways to achieve greater savings -- but only on paper. She said the plans that now go to the House represent political reality.

"We have to work with not only our members but also labor organizations, the cities and towns,' Lesko said. And she said it took a year to come up with what the Senate approved.

"Is it everything I wanted? No,' she said.

"Is it everything Justin Olson wanted? No,' Lesko continued. "But is it the best that we could get? I am convinced it is.'

Lesko acknowledged the Republican-controlled Legislature has a history of approving measures aimed at unions. But she said rolling over the unions this time to cut benefits deeper was not an option.

"First of all, I don't think it's a good idea,' Lesko said.

"But, second of all, I think we would have gotten opposition from the firefighters and the law enforcement,' she continued, groups with their own political power even within some Republican ranks. "And I don't think we would have gotten the votes.'

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