From Hero To Bad Guy In One Budget Vote: The Demonization of Public Safety

In my house, we have a budget. Everything down to the food for the pups, we plan ahead. Now some of those plans involve the unexpected. Boo and Scout love their bones, but occasionally, they drop one in the yard. Of course, we need to replace it. We also think about our lives down the road. I love practicing law, but I might actually retire one day and spend all my time with the redhead. That is my dream anyway. We put money away to reach our plan to retire. We work each day keeping our plans for the future in mind.

During those days of working and planning for the future as well as when we retire, we plan to be protected by public safety personnel. While we save to buy groceries when we are 80, we are not saving to pay for police protection, EMS response or firefighters to put out a fire at our home. That is something we expect to be provided by our government. I must brag that our public safety folks in Cobb County are some of the best in the country! Just as my wife and I have plans, each of those public safety employees has a goal, plan and a dream for retirement.

In public safety, as in any other endeavor, there is a quid pro quo with regard to retirement. If you work for low wages, accept the conditions of a job that 99% of the public could not and would not do and accept the fact that you may not come home at the end of your shift, the public that you serve will provide a safety net when it comes time for you to retire. Your retirement will be paid every year for the rest of your life. The amount of that you will receive can be calculated to the penny based upon your years of service as a percentage of your annual salary. The annual amount of a public safety retirement is no surprise to the personnel or the government that employs them.

So, I have been amazed lately that public safety retirements have come under attack. Suddenly, the “reason” that governments around the United States cannot survive in tough economic times is because public safety employees” make too much money” and their “retirements cost too much!” Some governments have gone so far as to seek bankruptcy as a way to avoid the obligation to pay these retirements, even for those public safety personnel who retired long ago!

Now it seems simple to me that if a government entity knows what obligations it has with regard to the amount of money necessary to fulfill the promises made to public safety personnel retirements, those funds should have been budgeted, planned for and expected every year. Budgets are not destroyed based upon long anticipated expenses. Budgets should only be threatened by unexpected expenses. This is the same as in our home budget.

Some will disagree. “Lance, the reason the budgets are threatened is because the economy crashed and there is less income to pay the government’s obligations.” This is nonsense. Like our home, the government should have a reserve fund to ensure all obligations are met, including the retirement obligations to public safety employees. This is not a difficult concept. If circumstances change, cut the budget elsewhere. The first obligation of any government is to protect the citizens. This means living up to the promises made to those who fulfill that obligation.

So, why have public safety pensions come under fire? If there is truly not enough money in a government budget how is that the fault of the brave public safety workers who did everything we asked of them and more? Why do we allow elected officials to demonize the people who did nothing to place the government in this position? We must point the finger back at these elected officials and tell them that mismanagement is the demon; pure and simple.

However, do not be naive. Public safety pensions are under attack for another reason. There are people who believe that public safety personnel are overpaid….yes, overpaid. They portray public safety personnel as employees who work for a short period of time and then live off the government for the rest of their lives. Listen carefully to their arguments. They make it sound like your pensions are not earned! A pension is earned every shift, every day, every call. Every child taken into protective custody, every body pulled out of a fire and every felon apprehended entitles public safety personnel to that pension. There is something more to this pension. Public safety personnel could work in the private sector and make more money throughout their careers. If they made more, they could save more for their own retirements. They choose to accept less money for 20 years in exchange for a promise from the people they serve. It is that simple.

In every society, there are people willing to step up to perform the undesirable tasks that are critical to the success and safety of that society. Without these individuals, our society would be a different place. In the case of public safety personnel, we would have no one to call when faced with a medical emergency, our property would be in jeopardy and we would be left to protect ourselves when faced with criminals. We make a promise to those who step forward to protect our society; make it thorough a career and we will provide for your retirement. That is the nature of a pubic safety pension. It is not a give away, it is not entitlement spending.

Watch out for those who demonize what you worked so hard to achieve, or worse, those who support allowing a government to avoid its obligations with regard to public safety pensions. They are not conservative, they are not fiscally responsible and they are no friends of public safety. Supporting public safety means more than making speeches and promising to be tough on crime. The true measure of a politician is a commitment to the obligations of government including public safety and the promises made to public safety personnel. Nothing short of living up to those obligations is acceptable.

Speak out, get involved and VOTE! You earned the right to do all three. Stand up for yourselves and each other and do not allow anyone to turn our heroes into demons.

Stay safe.

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