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Was it constitutional for Proposition 124 to replace PSPRS' permanent benefit increases with a capped 2% COLA?

In this blog I and multiple commenters have broached the subject of the suspect constitutionality of PSPRS' replacement of the old perma...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

If you want to convince Arizonans to reform PSPRS, you don't go to New York

With thanks to a colleague who informed me of this article, Coaxing Fire and Police Staffs in Arizona to Cut Own Pensions, by Ken Belson in the August 11, 2014 New York Times, I was hopeful that there was going to be some new ideas from Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona (PFFA) President Bryan Jeffries, who recently took over for Tim Hill.  Unfortunately, the article was a disappointment.

The article details Mr. Jeffries' attempt to sell the PFFA reform plan, discussed in several recent posts, as a noble concession by Arizona's current firefighters to help PSPRS, and by extension, taxpayers and future firefighters.  The article has errors*, and the writer does not seem to be very familiar with PSPRS or its recent travails.  I am not sure how the New York Times got involved in this or why they found it newsworthy, but the Arizona Republic, which has done excellent reporting on PSPRS, would have certainly been more accurate and probably given the claims of Mr. Jeffries and others quoted in the article a little more scrutiny.

For me the key passage in the article is this:
To put the plan into effect, Mr. Jeffries wants to change the Constitution to allow for this one-time fix. This would reassure workers that lawmakers could not make even more drastic changes later.
I do not know if the second sentence is a paraphrased quote from Mr. Jeffries or inferred from the desire to embed the PFFA reform plan in the Arizona Constitution.  Either way, this statement rather boldly declares that the PFFA strategy is basically an end run around the Arizona legislature when it comes to PSPRS.  It is arrogant enough for the PFFA to present a final reform plan to the legislature as if it was the perfect solution.  It is another thing to go to the New York Times, hardly an Arizona-friendly paper, portray your organization as a protector of Arizona's taxpayers, and give the impression that you plan to treat the Arizona legislature as a non-entity in PSPRS reform.

As I detailed in recent post the PFFA reform proposal is no good.  I do not know how involved the PFFA was in the drafting of SB 1609 three years ago, but their public position was that no reform was necessary at the time.  Now they are all-in for reform but think that the legislature should just rubber-stamp their proposal, even though it is no improvement over the Arizona legislature's own bill, SB 1609.  So what was Mr. Jeffries' goal in talking to the New York Times?  I do not know, but if he thought a write-up in an elitist east coast paper would help PFFA's case, I think he is badly mistaken.

*PSPRS only takes half of any returns over 9% and places them in the COLA fund, and only part of SB 1609 was overturned, not the entire law.


  1. Wish I understood the numbers, why does the city of tucson contribute so much into the psrs for its employees. My employer doesn't contibute that much for me. Is that something that is nogotiated?

    1. Thank you for your comment. PSPRS aggregates all the employers into one fund for investment purposes, but each employer has its own account. PSPRS' actuary annually calculates the liabilities and assets for each employer and determines a contribution rate for each based on that employer's funding ratio.

      In the case of Tucson, they have huge unfunded liabilities. Fire is $230 million short and police is $350 million short of what they need to fund all their retirements. This means that they must to pay extra each year to pay off those unfunded liabilities. Of the 50% annual employer contribution for public safety mentioned in the article, 35-38% of that is going to pay the unfunded liabilities.

      You are lucky that your employer is better funded since this leaves more money for wages and benefits for employees.

    2. I appreciate the response. I guess there is a benefit not working for the big departments. We dont negotiate a contract or benefits. Never understood why each department membership or city paid different amounts.


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