Firefighters and Lobbyists

We see a lot of bills in the General Assembly that, when you get beyond the high-sounding rhetoric, simply come down to politicians taking money from one group of people and giving it to another. And when that happens a legislator who says, ‘I don’t think doing that is good idea’ usually gets pummeled by the folks who would have received the money – which helps explain why, when paid (not volunteer) firefighters demanded a retroactive $300 million pension bonus, their bill sailed through the State House. And landed in the Senate.

The question here is simple: Is taking $300 million from taxpayers to give firefighters a retro-active bonus justified? (Note: This legislation only effects paid firefighters. It doesn’t affect volunteer firefighters.)

A typical paid city firefighter receives an average salary of $50,000. In addition, he or she can retire at age 50 with 30 years of service and began receiving a pension of about $33,000 a year immediately. The firefighter’s union wants to increase that pension by $15,000 a year, raising it to $48,000 and to push through their bill they retained a lobbyist, Brian Lewis, who has encouraged more political showmanship and finger pointing than thoughtful discussion.

But wasn’t all that just one more example of broken politics – of a politician seeing a way to score points with one group (firefighters) at the expense of another group (local taxpayers) which doesn’t even know it’s about to get socked with a $300 million bill?

In a nutshell, this debate boils down to two questions: Is granting a $33,000 pension to an employee who, by then, may be earning $60,000, and allowing him to retire when he is, say, 50 years old, fair?

If it is unfair, does that unfairness justify making taxpayers shoulder an additional $300 million burden? It’s hard to tell a firefighter no to a $48,000 pension. This time, it doesn’t seem fair to force it on unknowing taxpayers.

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