By Jennifer Gomori, MAPE Editor

MAPO representatives recently participated in a meeting with the leadership of the West Michigan Policy Forum to discuss ways to tackle unfunded liabilities in communities without breaking the bank when it comes to the state’s budget. This meeting was connected with Gov. Rick Snyder’s Responsible Retirement Reform Task Force.

Attending on behalf of MAPE members was Rich Heins, Michigan Association of Police (MAP) President, to hear concerns of task force members which include state and local officials, private sector business leaders and employee representatives. Michigan Association of Police Organizations (MAPO) President Mike Sauger is a member of Governor Snyder’s task force. MAPO represents MAP and several other Michigan public safety unions.

“We’re going to have all the information first hand because he’s on that task force,” Heins said of Sauger.

The Feb. 15, 2017 meeting in Grand Rapids at Western Michigan University highlighted concerns leaders have with municipalities, such as Detroit and Flint, both previously placed under the leadership of state Emergency Managers to fix their budgets in an effort to avoid bankruptcy. Going forward Snyder and other leaders are trying to avoid situations like these where communities cannot afford to fully fund pension plans and retiree healthcare.

“Now the governor has taken this on as one of his causes,” Heins said. “He’s trying to figure out a way to fix it without it being entirely on the state.”

Union leaders want to ensure their members aren’t stuck paying the bill either now or in their retirement. “In the lame duck session this past year, there was an effort to pass legislation that would harm retirees and the prospect for retiree health care for active employees” Heins said.

Some of the options discussed by the task force included starting Health Savings Accounts and limiting multipliers for pensions system.

“I think the governor’s looking for some way to fund the unfunded liability - to get rid of those legacy costs,” however, Heins said, “The majority of municipalities have already taken steps to address this issue. You can’t just blanket this issue.”

The problem, Heins said, is how each municipality measures their unfunded liabilities on a different scale, which sometimes, can be vastly different from the way the state measures those liabilities. He gave the example of the state projecting an 8 percent increase in a municipality’s unfunded liability while that same municipality might decide the projection is only 4 percent. Setting a standard for these projections is part of the solution to prevent communities from going into the red.

“Everybody has to use the same numbers,” Heins said. “That’s what the governor’s task force is supposed to do. They have to get transparency to see who has taken steps to fix it and who hasn’t taken steps to fix it. In the next eight weeks, they are going to come up with something to standardize what the unfunded liability is across the state.”

Heins noted that of all the municipalities in the state, it was brought up that only 10 jurisdictions are causing some 40 percent of the unfunded liability.

“Those 10 have to figure out a way to handle their unfunded liability,” Heins said. “They need to have the opportunity to manage themselves, and if they can’t do it, that’s when the state comes in. That would be the goal of labor representation as opposed to a legislative fix for all and it blankets every municipality.”

“That’s the fear, that they’ll come in and say no more pension, no more health care. In my opinion, that would be devastating to this profession,” Heins said. “When you’re a policeman, you put your 25 years in and make a reasonable wage. For them to say you’re going to be a 70-year-old policeman because you can’t afford to retire ... Police work is a young man’s job.”

Heins talked about how it’s impractical and in many cases impossible for law enforcement officers to work into their 60s and 70s, trying to keep up with younger criminals. He said you can’t compare the work officers perform and the wages they earn to other careers where there are more opportunities for older workers.

MAPO represents Michigan Association of Police; Detroit Police: Officers Association, Command Officers Association, and Lieutenants and Sergeants Association; Grand Rapids Police: Officers Association and Command Officers Association; Kalamazoo Police Supervisors Association; Kalamazoo Public Safety Officers Association; Michigan Corrections Organization; Michigan State Police: Command Officers Association and Troopers Association; Police Officers Labor Council; Warren Police: Officers Association and Command Officers Association.