State Law May Stand In Way of Phoenix Pension Cuts

Phoenix police and fire

A Phoenix ballot initiative – titled Proposition 487 – would block off the city’s traditional pension system from all new hires, and instead shift those employees into a new, 401(k)-style plan.

The measure, if passed, would not apply to the city’s police and firefighters. But opponents of the reform are now saying that a legal quirk could end up blocking benefits for all of the city’s 4,000 police officers and firefighters. Reported by the Arizona Republic:

The initiative targets the retirement plan for general city workers hired in the future. Although the measure’s preamble states it’s not intended to affect first responders, attorneys for Phoenix have said the actual language, specifically the amendment to the City Charter, is poorly written and could wind up blocking pension contributions for existing and future police and fire.

However, several areas of state law, including the Arizona Constitution and provisions creating the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, could prohibit Phoenix from ever withdrawing from the plan or diminishing retirement benefits for existing employees, attorneys said.

[…]

[Attorney Robert] Klausner said the likely result is that the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System would have to sue Phoenix or stop crediting its police and firefighters for additional years of service. Ultimately, he said, the city is in an “impossible conundrum” that it would probably lose.

“No matter what you do, you’re violating the law and welcoming a lawsuit,” Klausner said. “All that does is make lawyers really happy.”

Proponents of the reform measure have accused opponents of “scare-mongering”. From the Arizona Republic:

Scot Mussi, chairman of the group, said it’s clear that the city could not legally stop its payments to the state pension system. He said “scare mongering” Phoenix officials have suggested it could apply to public-safety workers to trick voters.

“That’s just crazy,” Mussi said of the argument regarding police and firefighters. “It would be unconstitutional. It would violate state law, and it goes against what’s expressed in the initiative itself.”

The fight over the measure has been going on for several weeks now. Opponents had earlier claimed that the measure would also unintentionally cut benefits for disabled workers.

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