Report: Americans Love Firefighters and Cops, But Not Public Safety Pensions

A Reuters survey of trends from around the country suggests that U.S. voters still admire the firefighters and police who protect them, but they are less enamored of the pensions these public safety workers draw when they retire.

Traditionally, citizens have backed generous pay and benefits for the cops and firefighters willing to risk their lives to keep them safe, the report noted ( This was especially the case after the deaths of many emergency workers in the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.

But as economic conditions have worsened and many local governments have run into severe fiscal problems, that attitude has started to change. Since the 2007 recession, some cities have tried to roll back pension benefits and pay, among the most rigid and, in some cases, highest expenses in municipal budgets.

From New York to California and points in between, police officers and firefighters have been drawn into pitched battles over their pay and benefits.

In San Diego and San Jose, California’s second and third biggest cities, voters in June overwhelmingly backed sweeping pension reforms. In San Jose, all employees will have to choose between reduced benefits or higher retirement contributions.

In the mid-sized California cities of Stockton and San Bernardino, officials say public safety costs were among the factors that forced both to declare bankruptcy. In Vallejo, a former U.S. Navy town near San Francisco that emerged from a three-year bankruptcy last year, public safety pay and benefits were consuming three-quarters of the city’s general fund.

Detroit, which contends with one of the highest crime rates in the country, nonetheless cut pay and health care benefits for city workers, including police, by 10 percent just over a week ago, a move the mayor says will save the cash-strapped city $102 million a year. St. Louis this month approved an overhaul of the firefighter retirement system that rolls back decades of increases, while Miami officials trying to plug a $60 million budget gap this week declared “financial urgency,” which will let them alter employee contracts.

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