Y our recent Debate Forum on public service wages and pensions adds voice to a rising tide of increasing criticism over public service pensions and wages. It has been my honor to have served the last 21 years as a professional firefighter in one of the Miami Valley’s larger municipalities and I take issue with some of the articles assertions. Regarding wages, I submit that there are really no benchmarks for an inner-city urban firefighter’s wages. Are we to be compared with the very few private departments that protect certain high-risk installations like oil refineries? These facilities are so sprinklered and detected, that a serious fire rarely occurs, and when it does guess, who do they call for back-up? Should an inner-city police officer make the same wage as a plant security guard? The paramedical services firefighters provide require training roughly equivalent to an Associate’s-level degree. Add to that the dangerous conditions under which we operate and the various fire control and rescue skills we bring to the street, I submit we are worth our wages.
Most financial planners will tell you that to save for retirement you should contribute between 15 and 18 percent of your salary to a savings plan. Some companies will match 401K contributions, so let’s say a thrifty saver with a matching 401K may be saving 18 to 21 percent. In Ohio, police set aside 29 percent of their wages and firefighters set aside 34 percent. In both cases, the employee contributes 10 percent of that amount. While this is a little higher than the private sector saver, safety forces tend to retire earlier; fighting fires and wrestling bad guys is tough on the body. Given the shorter time our money has to grow, OP&F contribution rates are not out of line with a private sector saver. Also, keep in mind the average OP&F pension is $36,000. The public pension system is not unlike the private saver. It is not, as Mr. Luedtke posts, paying people not to work. The contributions, if made on time and allowed to grow, can provide for the expected expenditures. The model is sound, so why are so many pension systems in such trouble? In a word: politicians.
Legislatures and local governments have chronically under-funded their portion of the pension contribution over the past decades. Even in better economic times, these governments failed to support their pension obligations while at the same time they spent money to build bridges to nowhere, fountains in the river and numerous other frivolous endeavors. They are as irresponsible as the dead-beat father who refuses to pay child support. Public servants did not cause the pension system mess. Irresponsible politicians did and now they are pointing fingers at the workers in an attempt to divert attention from their unconscionable mismanagement.
[Re. DCP Debate Forum, 01/12/11]