Police, firefighters oppose bills in legislature that will take away benefits

Posted at 7:51 PM, Dec 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-06 07:19:50-05

Michael O'Brian has been a fire chief for five years, and he's worried about firefighters that will need health care once they're retired.

"I can't tell you how many retirements I've been to where the person retires, and then within a year, we hear about cancer or we hear about other health related things that happened because of the position," says O'Brian.

The bills would make current employees and retirees pay 20% of their health care costs. There would be no health care or pensions for future retirees. Instead, they'd go into a 401(k)-style plan with limited employer contributions.

"It's universal between all the police chiefs that this definitely will have a negative impact on public safety," explains Robert Stevenson, a retired police chief.

Stevenson says the benefit cuts will push away people thinking about going into the profession. He and O'Brian agree that will make their jobs of protecting the people harder.

O'Brian says "when you call 911, you don't want the C team showing up, you want the best and brightest. And in order for us to do that we've gotta be competitive with private sector and draw people into this profession."

Which is why people like former Lansing mayor David Hollister have been working on finding a solution for the better part of a decade. He and the city of Lansing have been trying to find a way to pay for unfunded liabilities, and have made progress.

"It should not be done in a hurried up fashion," states Hollister, "it should not be done in retribution, it should be done making sure that the financial piece is solved, but it's done equitably."

Which is why Stevenson wants municipalities to handle it on their own.

Ones that have planned for it, like Lansing and his home of Livonia, are almost entirely funded, while many other municipalities across the state are struggling. But if the bills are passed, he says even the ones that have saved for it will still lose benefits.