LANISNG, Mich. (WILX) - It was a different kind of fight for first responders in Lansing today. Hundreds of police officers and firefighters gathered at the capital, speaking out against a plan that would cut their retirement benefits. It's a proposed solution to solve the state's $17 billion unfunded pensions and health care deficit problem.
Back in January Governor Rick Snyder formed a task force to come up with a reasonable solution to the unfunded liabilities. However, first responders say a bill about to be proposed in the legislature will ignore the report from the task force, and puts their benefits at risk.
WILX Alani Letang was at the protest Wednesday, speaking to those officers about their views of the situation. They tell us that police and firefighters usually retire younger than your typical worker, due to the strenuous work they perform. George Basar is the chief of police in Howell, he said, "I don't think any community wants to have a 67 or 70-year-old police officer or firefighter showing up on their doorstep" said George Bassar, Howell chief of police. And since Medicare applicants aren't eligible until age 65, first responders rely on the in-between option their retiree health care benefits provide. Basar is also a legislative chairman for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, he said without those benefits communities will lose officers.
"Our concern from the management standpoint is recruitment and retention of good quality police officers and in order to do that they have to offer good benefits," said Bassar.
Lansing firefighters union representative Jared Nisch said the issue needs to stay local because one city is not like the other. "We've been working in good faith with the city to make those changes and that's a local issue. Things in Lansing are different than they are in Bloomfield Hills or in Detroit, so a one-size fits all legislation that they are trying to pass is not the answer" said Jared Nisch, union officer, Lansing Firefighter's Local 421.
We tried to get several Republican lawmakers to talk about the issue, but none of them wanted to discuss until a bill has been introduced. First responders tell us they will be back out again next year if an agreement, or plan, is not reached.