Baltimore City says retirement benefits for fire and police officers must be scaled back to be sustainable.
By Cathy Duchamp
The Baltimore City Council will vote today on a plan to reduce payouts pledged to retired police officers and firefighters. Council members say it’s the only way to keep the pension system solvent during tough economic times. But union chiefs plan to fight the measure.
For Stephan Fugate, fighting fires has been the best job he’s ever had.
"You’ll never get rich, but you get to help people, you get to literally save lives on a fairly regular basis," says Fugate.
But these days, Fugate’s main job is saving his union’s pension plan from cuts proposed by the Baltimore City Council. The most contentious measure would give retirees a fixed annual cost of living increase, instead of a variable rate that kicks out higher returns in good financial times. Fugate says the change violates the city’s pension ordinance.
"In essence that contract clause says that once you’re hired, your benefits cannot be diminished or impaired," he says.
City managers say Baltimore may have to declare bankruptcy if public pensions aren’t cut, for current workers as well as retirees. Fugate says the police and firefighter unions will take the city to court over the issue.