St. Louis Firefighters' Pension Argument Fails Bullshit Detector


Chris Molitor: You've been annotated!
  • Chris Molitor: You've been annotated!
Earlier this week Chris Molitor, president of the firefighters' union Local 73, wrote a guest commentary in the Post-Dispatch criticizing Mayor Francis Slay's push to reform the firefighters' pension. The pension, btw, now accounts for a third of the fire department's total budget, has more than tripled in costs since 2007 (to $24 million annually) and is expected to rise another 30 percent next year to $31.4 million.

Something about Molitor's article (its truthiness, you might say) struck us here at Daily RFT, so we decided to run it through the ol' Bullshit Detector (TM). Below is what the machine spat out, with the italic sections containing dubious statements from Molitor and the underlined text offering an explanation of the inaccuracies and/or distortions.

Molitor's titled his piece "Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely." It read:

St. Louis firefighters understand the challenges our city faces. We agree that changes must be made to the Firemen's Retirement System to ensure it is affordable, sustainable and continues to provide fire fighters with the retirement income they have earned and deserve.

In fact, firefighters already have agreed to proposals by St. Louis aldermen to alter the pension calculation for new hires and to make essential changes to the way disability is awarded. [How could they not when the Post-Dispatch caught them red-handed defrauding the system?] These substantive reforms will save the city of St. Louis about $7.6 million next year alone. [The fire union's proposal, crafted by Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, is awaiting an actuarial study to support those envisioned savings, though would still provide $1.5 million less savings next year than the plan Mayor Francis Slay proposed.]

That's how government is supposed to work: two sides coming together [means to say: "the union and their political allies at the expense of the taxpayer"] developing solutions and making real reforms that work for everyone. But St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay seems to have taken his lessons from Washington, D.C., [note: empty political rhetoric] on how to stonewall and prevent anything from getting done. [Fact: The union has had Slay's proposal since December and immediately began to criticize the proposal.]

He is holding up the reforms [actually, it's members of the Board of Aldermen who are keeping Slay's bill from advancing] while he tries to strong-arm everyone, waging a relentless campaign [question: Who's supposed to handle this if not the mayor?] to gain total control over the Firemen's Retirement System. [Fact: The mayor's proposal calls for the pension to have a board of trustees made up of a majority of firefighters.]

Under the current system, any pension benefit change must begin with enabling legislation from the state Legislature. [Implied meaning: The union wants to keep the pension under state control in hopes of curtailing any drastic changes.] It then goes to the Board of Aldermen and has to be signed by the mayor before it is enacted.

Mayor Slay wants to eliminate those important checks and balances. He wants all the power to control the entire fund and spend the money as he sees fit. [Scare tactic: The pension money could only be used for firefighters' retirement under the mayor's proposal.] This blatant power grab might have Wall Street financial planners salivating [red herring alert!] but it is unfair and it must be checked.

Firefighting is not the career to choose if you seek fame and fortune. If that's what you're looking for, you might try politics. [Means to say: "I'm rubber, you're glue."] It is tough but rewarding work. And, for too many of my colleagues, exposing our bodies to dangerous, traumatic and physically demanding situations and carcinogenic fumes means our careers won't be long. [St. Louis police work is arguably much more dangerous than firefighting. Since 1990, sixteen St. Louis police officers have died in the line of duty compared to three firefighters during that same time. Yet the police pension is less lucrative and less costly to the department's overall payroll. Moreover, while 48 percent of firefighters retire with some kind of disability (often fraudulently), just 11 percent of police officers retire due to a disability.]

The Firemen's Pension Fund is deferred income from firefighter paychecks matched with employer contributions. St. Louis firefighters do not collect Social Security, so our pensions represent all of what we will have at retirement. [Omission: Firefighters get all their annual pension payments returned to them as a lump-sum payment upon retirement -- a cash gift that can approach six figures -- and something Social Security could never, ever afford. In addition, retirees receive monthly checks paying them 75 percent of their average wage as a firefighter.] Pensions are what's promised to this city's fire fighters after they have given their all to the citizens. They should not be used like a stack of political poker chips [implication: Slay will take the pension money to the boats, just you wait and see!] for the mayor.

Mayor Slay already has spent more than $250,000 of city money on a private law firm he hired to provide legal advice and counseling to strip firefighters of their current pensions. [Omission: The city hired Thompson Coburn through its competitive bidding process and argues that spending $250,000 to save a potential $60 million in the long run is well worth the cost.] This firm last year contributed $40,000 to the mayor's reelection campaign. [Omission: Thompson Coburn also contributed to Lewis Reed's campaign last year.] Firefighters and aldermen repeatedly have asked the mayor for a copy of that legal opinion for review, but, so far, he has refused to provide it. [Omission: Slay's office has offered to hold a hearing with Lewis Reed to discuss the legal arguments but scheduling conflicts (with both sides blaming each other for sabotaging the meeting) have kept it from happening.]

The time has come for the political games to stop.

The members of Local 73 already have worked with the aldermen to develop reforms that address the pension issue. [Clarification: Those reforms maintain all the lucrative perks current firefighters enjoy while denying future hires a ticket aboard the same gravy train.] We have tried to work with Mayor Slay. [See everything above.] And, while we are offering to make important changes, the mayor will not be satisfied until all the power to control the pension fund rests in his hands. [Translation: Slay must think he's God or something!] The mayor's plan is a recipe for corruption. [What is it now???]

No politician -- no matter how popular, no matter how many times he has been elected -- should be entrusted with that level of power. If we abandon the checks and balances [none of which actually exist, but hey!] that must remain in place, the potential for abuse will be enormous -- today and long after Mayor Slay leaves City Hall. Because, as the old saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. [Note: So refreshing to use that saying for once when not referring to Local 73!]

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