News at the state capitol has focused on the alleged abuse of privileges by executives and board members at the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System. In addition to expensive lunches, travel and hotel stays, the former administrators’ behavior may result in the pension fund paying out thousands of dollars to settle sexual harassment claims.
At a time when cities across Arizona – with Bisbee being the poster child – are having trouble scraping together the money required to fund the pension, in part due to its history of poor investments, news that those in charge are behaving badly and spending freely is frustrating and worthy of our anger.
Firefighters and police, who earn the pension, are not at fault and don’t deserve any of the criticism that the fund and its managers are receiving. Using the actions of PSPRS management to club public safety pensions is wrong.
There are reasons why the PSPRS was created the way it was. Consider that a military pension can still be claimed with 20 years of service. The seemingly short accrual period is the result of the reality that the jobs these people are tasked with doing are inherently dangerous and hard on the body and mind. Typically, these funds are designed to reward the risk and hazards of a difficult job with a well-deserved pension.
One of the most attractive features in recruiting police, sheriff’s deputies, state troopers and firefighters has always been the pension system. Fast forward to the most recent changes in the PSPRS – the number of years to qualify for the benefit was recently increased from 20 to 25 years – and a predictable consequence is the result. Increasing the retirement age will create an older workforce doing dangerous duties longer, which is certain to increase disability costs and other negative age-related outcomes.
Despite the claims of PSPRS leadership that spending for travel, lunches and other seemingly frivolous expenditures are small compared to the organization’s $14 million annual budget, the poor investment performance of the pension fund and its impact on the budgets of municipalities and counties justifies questioning those in charge.
The behavior and spending of PSPRS leadership are a poor reflection on those who regularly put their lives on the line to protect the public.